Seeds play a fundamental role in colonization of the environment by spermatophytes, and seeds harvested from crops are the main food source for human beings. Knowledge of seed biology is therefore important for both fundamental and applied issues. This review on seed biology illustrates the important progress made in the field of Arabidopsis seed research over the last decade. Access to ‘omics’ tools, including the inventory of genes deduced from sequencing of the Arabidopsis genome, has speeded up the analysis of biological functions operating in seeds. This review covers the following processes: seed and seed coat development, seed reserve accumulation, seed dormancy and seed germination. We present new insights in these various fields and describe ongoing biotechnology approaches to improve seed characteristics in crops.