Two genomic clones, encoding isoforms A and B of the 24 kDa soybean oleosin and containing 5 kbp and 1 kbp, respectively, of promoter sequence, were inserted separately into rapeseed plants. T2 seeds from five independent transgenic lines, three expressing isoform A and two expressing isoform B, each containing one or two copies of the transgene, were analysed in detail. In all five lines, the soybean transgenes exhibited the same patterns of mRNA and protein accumulation as the resident rapeseed oleosins, i.e. their expression was absolutely seed-specific and peaked at the mid-late stages of cotyledon development. The 24 kDa soybean oleosin was targeted to and stably integrated into oil bodies, despite the absence of a soybean partner isoform. The soybean protein accumulated in young embryos mainly as a 23 kDa polypeptide, whereas a 24 kDa protein predominated later in development. The ratio of rapeseed:soybean oleosin in the transgenic plants was about 5:1 to 6:1, as determined by SDS-PAGE and densitometry. Accumulation of these relatively high levels of soybean oleosin protein did not affect the amount of endogenous rapeseed oleosin. Immunoblotting studies showed that about 95% of the recombinant soybean 24 kDa oleosin (and the endogenous 19 kDa rapeseed oleosin) was targeted to oil bodies, with the remainder associated with the microsomal fraction. Sucrose density-gradient centrifugation showed that the oleosins were associated with a membrane fraction of buoyant density 1.10-1.14 g ml-1, which partially overlapped with several endoplasmic reticulum (ER) markers. Unlike oleosins associated with oil bodies, none of the membrane-associated oleosins could be immunoprecipitated in the presence of protein A-Sepharose, indicating a possible conformational difference between the two pools of oleosin. Complementary electron microscopy-immunocytochemical studies of transgenic rapeseed revealed that all oil bodies examined could be labelled with both the soybean or rapeseed anti-oleosin antibodies, indicating that each oil body contained a mixed population of soybean and rapeseed oleosins. A small but significant proportion of both soybean and rapeseed oleosins was located on ER membranes in the vicinity of oil bodies, but none were detected on the bulk ER cisternae. This is the first report of apparent targeting of oleosins via ER to oil bodies in vivo and of possible associated conformational/processing changes in the protein. Although oil-body formation per se can occur independently of oleosins, it is proposed that the relative net amounts of oleosin and oil accumulated during the course of seed development are a major determinant of oil-body size in desiccation-tolerant seeds.