Seed coat color in soybean is determined by four alleles of the classically defined / (inhibitor) locus that controls the presence or absence as well as the spatial distribution of anthocyanin pigments in the seed coat. By analyzing spontaneous mutations of the / locus, we demonstrated that the / locus is a region of chalcone synthase (CHS) gene duplications. Paradoxically, deletions of CHS gene sequences allow higher levels of CHS mRNAs and restore pigmentation to the seed coat. The unusual nature of the / locus suggests that its dominant alleles may represent naturally occurring examples of homology-dependent gene silencing and that the spontaneous deletions erase the gene-silencing phenomena. Specifically, mutations from the dominant ii allele (yellow seed coats with pigmented hila) to the recessive i allele (fully pigmented) can be associated with the absence of a 2.3-kb Hindlll fragment that carries CHS4, a member of the multigene CHS family. Seven independent mutations exhibit deletions in the CHS4 promoter region. The dominant / allele (yellow seed coats) exhibits an extra 12.1-kb Hindlll fragment that hybridizes with both the CHS coding region and CHS1 promoter-specific probes. Mutations of the dominant / allele to the recessive i allele (pigmented seed coats) give rise to 10.4- or 9.6-kb Hindlll CHS fragments that have lost the duplicated CHS1 promoter. Finally, gene expression analysis demonstrated that heterozygous plants (I/i) with yellow seed coats have reduced mRNA levels, indicating that the 12.1-kb Hindlll CHS fragment associated with the dominant / allele inhibits pigmentation in a trans-dominant manner. Moreover, CHS gene-specific expression in seed coats shows that multiple CHS genes are expressed in seed coats.