RNA silencing of endogenous plant genes can be achieved by virus-mediated, transient expression of homologous gene fragments. This powerful, reverse genetic approach, known as virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS), has been demonstrated only in dicot plant species, where it has become an important tool for functional genomics. Barley stripe mosaic virus (BSMV) is a tripartite, positive-sense RNA virus that infects many agriculturally important monocot species including barley, oats, wheat and maize. To demonstrate VIGS in a monocot host, we modified BSMV to express untranslatable foreign inserts downstream of the gammab gene, in either sense or antisense orientations. Phytoene desaturase (PDS) is required for synthesizing carotenoids, compounds that protect chlorophyll from photo-bleaching. A partial PDS cDNA amplified from barley was 90, 88 and 74% identical to PDS cDNAs from rice, maize and Nicotiana benthamiana, respectively. Barley infected with BSMV expressing barley, rice or maize PDS fragments became photo-bleached and accumulated phytoene (the substrate for PDS) in a manner similar to plants treated with the chemical inhibitor of PDS, norflurazon. In contrast, barley infected with wild-type BSMV, or BSMV expressing either N. benthamiana PDS or antisense green fluorescent protein (GFP), did not photo-bleach or accumulate phytoene. Thus BSMV silencing of the endogenous PDS was homology-dependent. Deletion of the coat protein enhanced the ability of BSMV to silence PDS. This is the first demonstration of VIGS in a monocot, and suggests that BSMV can be used for functional genomics and studies of RNA-silencing mechanisms in monocot plant species.