The effects on anther development of a fusion of the Arabidopsis anther-specific apg gene promoter to a ribonuclease (barnase) in transgenic tobacco plants were examined. Contrary to expectations, viable pollen grains were produced by these plants despite the demonstration that ribonuclease expression in the microspores and tapetum caused targeted cell ablation. Transformed plants were reduced in male fertility due to ablation of a proportion of pollen dependent on apg-barnase locus number. Plants were otherwise phenotypically normal and fully female fertile, confirming the anther-specific nature of the apg promoter. In microspores inheriting an apg-barnase locus following meiosis, loss of cell viability, as judged by fluorescein diacetate staining, occurred during mid to late microspore development. Microspores not inheriting a transgene went on to mature into viable pollen grains. Premature degeneration of the tapetum was also observed as a result of apg-barnase expression, but this did not appear to disrupt the subsequent microspore and pollen developmental programmes. This was substantiated by observations of microspore development in plants in which the tapetum was rescued from ablation by crossing in a second transgene encoding a tapetum-specific inhibitor of the ribonuclease. It was determined that tapetum cell disruption occurs at the early to mid uninucleate microspore stage in apg-barnase transformants. The data presented show that after this point in microspore development the tapetum is no longer essential for the production of viable pollen in tobacco.