The late embryogenesis-abundant (Lea) genes, which are suggested to act as desiccation protectants during seed desiccation and in water-stressed seedlings, can be induced by abscisic acid (ABA) and various kinds of water-related stress. Using cotton Lea cDNAs as probes it was found that several of the Lea genes are conserved at the mRNA level in dicots and monocots. By screening a barley cDNA library with a cotton Lea D19 cDNA a family of three members was isolated. The putative B19 proteins have strong similarities to the Em protein in wheat and to LEA proteins from several dicots. However, the middle part of the B19 proteins consists of a 20-amino acid motif repeated three and four times in B19.3 and B19.4, respectively, but only once in B19.1. The gene products are strongly hydrophilic, the internal 20-amino acid motif being the most hydrophilic part. This motif is found once in cotton Lea D19 but is repeated twice in cotton Lea D132, indicating that the repeats are universal among monocot and dicot B19-like genes. The B19 genes are regulated similarly during embryo development, but to very different levels. In contrast, they are differentially regulated by ABA and various types of osmotic stress. In immature embryos all three genes are responsive to ABA and mannitol. However, B19.1 is also responsive to salt. Cold stress does not induce B19 mRNAs; only a stabilization of the transcript levels is seen. These results suggest that the responses to salt stress and exogenous ABA operate through different pathways.