Genes encoding enzymes involved in biosynthesis of very long chain fatty acids were significantly up-regulated during early cotton fiber development. Two cDNAs, GhKCR1 and GhKCR2 encoding putative cotton 3-ketoacyl-CoA reductases that catalyze the second step in fatty acid elongation, were isolated from developing cotton fibers. GhKCR1 and 2 contain open reading frames of 963 bp and 924 bp encoding proteins of 320 and 307 amino acid residues, respectively. Quantatitive RT-PCR analysis showed that both these genes were highly preferentially expressed during the cotton fiber elongation period with much lower levels recovered from roots, stems and leaves. GhKCR1 and 2 showed 30%-32% identity to Saccharomyces cerevisiae Ybr159p at the deduced amino acid level. These cotton cDNAs were cloned and expressed in yeast haploid ybr159wD mutant that was deficient in 3-ketoacyl-CoA reductase activity. Wild-type growth rate was restored in ybr159wD cells that expressed either GhKCR1 or 2. Further analysis showed that GhKCR1 and 2 were co-sedimented within the membranous pellet fraction after high-speed centrifugation, similar to the yeast endoplasmic reticulum marker ScKar2p. Both GhKCR(s) showed NADPH-dependent 3-ketoacyl-CoA reductase activity in an in vitro assay system using palmitoyl-CoA and malonyl-CoA as substrates. Our results suggest that GhKCR1 and 2 are functional orthologues of ScYbr159p.