For identification of genes involved in embryogenesis in the model cereal rice, we have constructed a collection of cDNA libraries of well-defined stages of embryo development before, during and after organ differentiation. Here, we focus on the possible role of KNOX (maize Knotted1-like) class homeobox genes in regulation of rice embryogenesis. Three types of KNOX clones were identified in libraries of early zygotic embryos. Two of these, Oskn2 and Oskn3, encode newly described KNOX genes, whereas the third (Oskn1) corresponds to the previously described OSH1 gene. In situ hybridizations showed that during the early stages of embryo development, all three KNOX genes are expressed in the region where the shoot apical meristem (SAM) is organizing, suggesting that these genes are involved in regulating SAM formation. Whereas OSH1 was previously proposed to function also in SAM maintenance, Oskn3 may be involved in patterning organ positions, as its expression was found to mark the boundaries of different embryonic organs following SAM formation. The expression pattern of Oskn2 suggested an additional role in scutellum and epiblast development. Transgenic expression of Oskn2 and Oskn3 in tobacco further supported their involvement in cell fate determination, like previously reported for Knotted1 and OSH1 ectopic expression. Whereas Oskn3 transformants showed the most pronounced phenotypic effects during vegetative development, Oskn2 transformants showed relatively mild alterations in the vegetative phase but a more severly affected flower morphology. The observation that the KNOX genes produce similar though distinct phenotypic reponses in tobacco, indicates that their gene products act on overlapping but different sets of target genes, or that cell-type specific factors determine their precise action.