During the evolution of C4 plants from C3 plants, both the function and intracellular location of carbonic anhydrase (CA) have changed. To determine whether these changes are due to changes at the molecular level, we have studied the cDNA sequences and the expression of CA from Flaveria species demonstrating different photosynthetic pathways. In leaf extracts from F. bidentis (C4), F. brownii (C4-like), F. linearis (C3-C4) and F. pringlei (C3), two polypeptides of Mr 31 kDa and 35 kDa cross-reacted with anti-spinach CA antibodies. However, the relative labelling intensities of the two polypeptides differed depending on the species. Northern blot analysis indicated at least two CA transcripts are present in each Flaveria species with sizes ranging from 1.1 to 1.6 kb. Carbonic anhydrase cDNAs from all four Flaveria species studied encode an open reading frame for a polypeptide of 35-36 kDa. The amino acid sequences deduced from all four Flaveria cDNAs share at least 70% homology with the sequences of other dicot CAs. The F. bidentis (C4) CA sequence was found to be the least similar of the Flaveria proteins and, as most of the sequence dissimilarity was found in the first third of the CA molecule, these differences may be involved in the intracellular targeting of CA. A neighbour-joining tree inferred from CA amino acid sequences showed that the Flaveria CAs cluster with other dicot CAs forming a group distinct from those of monocot CAs and prokaryotic and Chlamydomonas periplasmic CAs.