Transcription in lysed barley plastids and Northern slot blot analyses were used to determine the relationship between changes in RNA levels and transcription during plastid development. Transcription in plastids of 4.5-9-day-old dark-grown or illuminated barley seedlings declined up to 10-fold as a function of plant age. Decreased transcription of some plastid genes (rbcL, psaA-psaB) was paralleled by decreased levels of mRNA. In other cases (16SrDNA, psbA) the changes in transcription were not followed by proportional changes in RNA levels indicating that RNA stability is important in establishing the amount of plastid RNA for these genes. Further analysis showed that transcription of the plastid rRNA transcription unit is regulated differently than the transcription of protein coding genes such as psbA or rbcL.