Basic cellular processes such as electron transport in photosynthesis and respiration require the precise control of iron homeostasis. To mobilize iron, plants have evolved at least two different strategies. The nonproteinogenous amino acid nicotianamine which is synthesized from three molecules of S-adenosyl-L-methionine, is an essential component of both pathways. This compound is missing in the tomato mutant chloronerva, which exhibits severe defects in the regulation of iron metabolism. We report the purification and partial characterization of the nicotianamine synthase from barley roots as well as the cloning of two corresponding gene sequences. The function of the gene sequence has been verified by overexpression in Escherichia coli. Further confirmation comes from reduction of the nicotianamine content and the exhibition of a chloronerva-like phenotype due to the expression of heterologous antisense constructs in transgenic tobacco plants. The native enzyme with an apparent Mr of approximately 105 000 probably represents a trimer of S-adenosyl-L-methionine-binding subunits. A comparison with the recently cloned chloronerva gene of tomato reveals striking sequence homology, providing support for the suggestion that the destruction of the nicotianamine synthase encoding gene is the molecular basis of the tomato mutation.