The NEC1 gene, previously isolated from Petunia hybrida, is expressed at high levels in nectaries, and in a very localized fashion in stamens, particularly in the anther stomium cells and the upper part of the filament. To elucidate the function of the NEC1 gene, co-suppression was employed for down-regulation of NEC1 expression, and transposon insertion mutagenesis was used to knock out the NEC1 function. Among the transgenic plants and plants carrying dTph1 inserted in the NEC1 gene, an "early open anther" phenotype was observed. In this mutant phenotype, the anthers already open in young flower buds (1.8 cm) that still contain immature pollen, resulting in poor pollen quality and impaired pollen release. The results obtained indicate that NEC1 might be involved in the development of stomium cells, which are ruptured during the normal process of anther dehiscence to release mature pollen. Southern analysis revealed the presence of a highly homologous NEC1-like gene, named NEC2, in the P. hybrida genome. The presence of NEC2 was confirmed by segregation analysis and sequencing of genomic clones. The implications of these results and possible reasons why no visually obvious phenotype in nectaries could be produced by co-suppression or transposon insertion mutagenesis are discussed.