C(4) photosynthesis occurs in the most productive crops and vegetation on the planet, and has become widespread because it allows increased rates of photosynthesis compared with the ancestral C(3) pathway. Leaves of C(4) plants typically possess complicated alterations to photosynthesis, such that its reactions are compartmented between mesophyll and bundle sheath cells. Despite its complexity, the C(4) pathway has arisen independently in 62 separate lineages of land plants, and so represents one of the most striking examples of convergent evolution known. We demonstrate that elements in untranslated regions (UTRs) of multiple genes important for C(4) photosynthesis contribute to the metabolic compartmentalization characteristic of a C(4) leaf. Either the 5' or the 3' UTR is sufficient for cell specificity, indicating that functional redundancy underlies this key aspect of C(4) gene expression. Furthermore, we show that orthologous PPDK and CA genes from the C(3) plant Arabidopsis thaliana are primed for recruitment into the C(4) pathway. Elements sufficient for M-cell specificity in C(4) leaves are also present in both the 5' and 3' UTRs of these C(3) A. thaliana genes. These data indicate functional latency within the UTRs of genes from C(3) species that have been recruited into the C(4) pathway. The repeated recruitment of pre-existing cis-elements in C(3) genes may have facilitated the evolution of C(4) photosynthesis. These data also highlight the importance of alterations in trans in producing a functional C(4) leaf, and so provide insight into both the evolution and molecular basis of this important type of photosynthesis.