We have investigated the relationship between seed dormancy and abscisic acid (ABA) metabolism in the monocot barley and the dicot Arabidopsis. Whether dormant (D) or non-dormant (ND), dry seed of Arabidopsis and embryos of dry barley grains all had similarly high levels of ABA. ABA levels decreased rapidly upon imbibition, although they fell further in ND than in D. Gene expression profiles were determined in Arabidopsis for key ABA biosynthetic [the 9-cis epoxycarotenoid dioxygenasegene family] and ABA catabolic [the ABA 8'-hydroxylase gene family (CYP707A)] genes. Of these, only the AtCYP707A2 gene was differentially expressed between D and ND seeds, being expressed to a much higher level in ND seeds. Similarly, a barley CYP707 homologue, (HvABA8'OH-1) was expressed to a much higher level in embryos from ND grains than from D grains. Consistent with this, in situ hybridization studies showed HvABA8'OH-1 mRNA expression was stronger in embryos from ND grains. Surprisingly, the signal was confined in the coleorhiza, suggesting that this tissue plays a key role in dormancy release. Constitutive expression of a CYP707A gene in transgenic Arabidopsis resulted in decreased ABA content in mature dry seeds and a much shorter after-ripening period to overcome dormancy. Conversely, mutating the CYP707A2 gene resulted in seeds that required longer after-ripening to break dormancy. Our results point to a pivotal role for the ABA 8'-hydroxylase gene in controlling dormancy and that the action of this enzyme may be confined to a particular organ as in the coleorhiza of cereals.