Dehydration tolerance was an adaptive trait necessary for the colonization of land by plants, and remains widespread among bryophytes: the nearest extant relatives of the first land plants. A genome-wide analysis was undertaken of water-stress responses in the model moss Physcomitrella patens to identify stress-responsive genes. An oligonucleotide microarray was used for transcriptomic analysis of Physcomitrella treated with abscisic acid (ABA), or subjected to osmotic, salt and drought stress. Bioinformatic analysis of the Physcomitrella genome identified the responsive genes, and a number of putative stress-related cis-regulatory elements. In protonemal tissue, 130 genes were induced by dehydration, 56 genes by ABA, but only 10 and eight genes, respectively, by osmotic and salt stress. Fifty-one genes were induced by more than one treatment. Seventy-six genes, principally encoding chloroplast proteins, were drought down-regulated. Many ABA- and drought-responsive genes are homologues of angiosperm genes expressed during drought stress and seed development. These ABA- and drought-responsive genes include those encoding a number of late embryogenesis abundant (LEA) proteins, a 'DREB' transcription factor and a Snf-related kinase homologous with the Arabidopsis ABA signal transduction component 'OPEN STOMATA 1'. Evolutionary capture of conserved stress-regulatory transcription factors by the seed developmental pathway probably accounts for the seed-specificity of desiccation tolerance among angiosperms.