A male cone-specific promoter from Pinus radiata D. Don (radiata pine) was used to express a stilbene synthase gene (STS) in anthers of transgenic Nicotiana tabacum plants, resulting in complete male sterility in 70% of transformed plants. Three plants were 98%-99.9% male sterile, as evidenced by pollen germination. To identify the stage at which transgenic pollen first developed abnormally, tobacco anthers from six different developmental stages were assayed microscopically. Following the release of pollen grains from tetrads, transgenic pollen displayed an increasingly flake-like structure, which gradually rounded up during the maturation process. We further investigated whether STS expression may have resulted in an impaired flavonol or sporopollenin formation. A specific flavonol aglycone stain was used to demonstrate that significant amounts of these substances were produced only in late stages of normal pollen development, therefore excluding a diminished flavonol aglycone production as a reason for pollen ablation. A detailed analysis of the exine layer by transmission electron microscopy revealed minor structural changes in the exine layer of ablated pollen, and pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy indicated that the biochemistry of sporopollenin production was unaffected. The promoter-STS construct may be useful for the ablation of pollen formation in coniferous gymnosperms and male sterility may potentially be viewed as a prerequisite for the commercial use of transgenic conifers.