The responses of two cultivars of soybean (Merr.) to a chilling treatment (4 C for first hour of imbibition) were compared. The germination of cv. Biloxi was unaffected by the treatment, while the germination of cv. Fiskeby was reduced. The phospholipid fatty acids of dry axes of the two cultivars were very similar, and, thus, could not be correlated with their responses to chilling. The fatty acid composition of chilling-tolerant Biloxi did not change over a subsequent 23-hour warm incubation, but there was a marked reduction in the unsaturated fatty acids of chilling-sensitive Fiskeby after 12 hours, which may be a symptom of deterioration. Protein synthesis in both cultivars was reduced by the chilling treatment. Redrying of Biloxi axes up to 18 hours after the onset of imbibition had no effect on their germination upon rehydration. Germination of Fiskeby axes was reduced by redrying after 8 hours of imbibition. After 7 months of dry storage of intact seeds, the sensitivity of the axes to chilling was retested. Biloxi axes had become chilling-sensitive, while the germination of Fiskeby axes was reduced to zero by the chilling treatment. A hypothesis is presented that imbibitional chilling sensitivity is an indication of reduced vigor, axes with a high vigor can tolerate the stress, while those without cannot.