Winter, as compared with spring cereals, possess better acclimation mechanisms that allow them to overwinter and survive freezing temperatures. This difference is genetically programmed and involves a complex genetic system. To understand the nature of this system and its regulation by low temperature, genes associated with freezing tolerance in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) were identified and characterized. Among these, the wcs120 gene family encodes a group of proteins ranging in size from 12 to 200 kDa. As shown by biochemical, immunohistochemical, molecular and genetic analyses, this gene family is specific to the Poaceae, highly abundant and coordinately regulated by low temperature. Furthermore, accumulation of WCS protein is directly correlated with the development of freezing tolerance. These analyses also revealed a regulatory control of the vernalization process over low temperature gene expression in winter cereals. Recent studies suggest that the molecular mechanisms controlling the expression of these genes involve negative regulatory factors that are modulated by phosphorylation.