The labile SAUR transcripts from higher plants contain a conserved DST sequence in their 3'-untranslated regions. Two copies of a DST sequence from soybean are sufficient to destabilize reporter transcripts in cultured tobacco cells whereas variants bearing mutations in the conserved ATAGAT or GTA regions are inactive. To investigate the potential for conserved recognition components in mammalian and plant cells, we examined the function of this instability determinant in mouse NIH3T3 fibroblasts and tobacco BY2 cells. In fibroblasts, a tetrameric DST element from soybean accelerated deadenylation and decay of a reporter transcript. However, a version mutated in the ATAGAT region was equally effective in this regard, and a tetrameric DST element from Arabidopsis was inactive. In contrast, the soybean DST element was more active as an mRNA instability element than the mutant version and the Arabidopsis element, when tested as tetramers in tobacco cells. Hence, the plant DST element is not recognized in animal cells with the same sequence requirements as in plant cells. Therefore, its mode of recognition appears to be plant-specific.