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The numerous genomic sequences and ESTs released by the Arabidopsis thaliana Genome Initiative (AGI) have allowed a systematic and functional study of the DEAD box RNA helicase family. Sequencing and in silico analysis led to the characterization of 28 novel A. thaliana DEAD box RNA helicases forming a family of 32 members, named AtRH. Fourteen AtRH genes with an unexpected heterogeneous mosaic structure are described and compared bringing new information about the genesis of the gene family. The mapping of the AtRH genes shows their repartition on the five chromosomes without clustering and therefore AtRH s have been estimated to 60 genes per A.thaliana haploid genome. Sequence comparisons revealed a very conserved catalytic central domain flanked or not by four classes of extensions in the N- and/or C- extremities. The global amino acid composition of the extensions are tentatively correlated to specific functions such as targeting, protein interaction or RNA binding. The expression of the 32 AtRH genes has been recorded in different tissues. Separate patterns of expression and alternative polyadenylation sites have been shown. Based on the integration of all this information, we propose a classification of the AtRH proteins into subfamilies with associated functions.