Subunit monomers and oligomers of crystalloid-type legumins are major components of SDS-soluble fractions from Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn redwood, Taxodiaceae) seed proteins. The subunits are made up of disulfide linked alpha-polypeptides and beta-polypeptides with molecular masses of 33 kDa and 23-25 kDa, respectively. Unusually for legumins, those from Metasequoia are glycosylated and the carbohydrate moieties are residing in the C-terminal region of the respective beta-polypeptides. A Metasequoia endosperm cDNA library has been constructed and legumin-encoding transcripts representing two divergent gene subfamilies have been characterized. Intersubfamily comparisons reveal 75% identity at the amino acid level and the values range from 53-35% when the legumin precursors deduced were compared with those from angiosperms. The predicted sequences together with data from amino acid sequencing prove that post-translational processing of Metasequoia prolegumins is directed to two different processing sites, each of them specific for one of the legumin subfamilies. The sites involved differ in their relative position and in the junction to be cleaved: Metasequoia legumin precursors MgLeg18 and MgLeg26 contain the conventional post-translational Asn-Gly processing site, which is generally regarded as highly conserved. In contrast, the MgLeg4 precursor is lacking this site and post-translational cleavage is directed to an unusual Asn-Thr processing site located in its hypervariable region, causing N-terminal extension of the beta-polypeptide relative to those hitherto known. Evidence is given that the unusual variant of processing also occurs in other conifers. Phylogenetic analysis reveals the precursors concerned as representatives of a distinct legumin subfamily, originating from duplication of an ancestral gene prior to or at the beginning of Taxodiaceae diversification.