A cDNA clone has been obtained for a low-abundance, seed-specific mRNA that encodes a polypeptide which defines a novel family of plant proteins with some similarities to the DnaJ class of molecular chaperones. The MEM1 (Maize Endosperm Motif binding protein) protein is capable of binding to the endosperm motif and activating transcription in the yeast one-hybrid system. Recombinant MEM1 was shown to bind in vitro to nucleic acids, with a preference for RNA over DNA. MEM1 is capable of forming homodimers, a property that is dependent on a domain close to the C-terminus of the protein. The protein is expressed in mid- to late-term endosperm cells. Subcellular fractionation and size fractionation under non-denaturing conditions indicate that the protein is present in the cytosol of endosperm cells. Possible roles of MEM1 in endosperm and protein body development are discussed.