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This invention relates to the identification and characterization of the maize HSP22 protein including the corresponding nucleic acid molecules, nucleic acid fragments and protein fragments. Further, this invention relates to both polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies to HSP22 and the production thereof. These antibodies can be used in a method for detecting the presence of HSP22 expression in whole leaf samples. Further, the nucleic acid molecule and fragments thereof can be used in assays to detect the levels of nucleic acid molecules involved in HSP22 expression. The levels of both HSP22 and HSP22 mRNA are then utilized as an indication of a plant's ability to tolerate heat stress. Additionally, plants can be transformed to express increased levels of HSP22.