Polar membrane glycerolipids occur in a mixture of molecular species defined by a polar head group and characteristic acyl groups esterified to a glycerol backbone. A molecular species of phosphatidylglycerol specific to chloroplasts of plants carries a Delta(3-trans) hexadecenoic acid in the sn-2 position of its core glyceryl moiety. The fad4-1 mutant of Arabidopsis thaliana missing this particular phosphatidylglycerol molecular species lacks the necessary fatty acid desaturase, or a component thereof. The overwhelming majority of acyl groups associated with membrane lipids in plants contains double bonds with a cis configuration. However, FAD4 is unusual because it is involved in the formation of a trans double bond introduced close to the carboxyl group of palmitic acid, which is specifically esterified to the sn-2 glyceryl carbon of phosphatidylglycerol. As a first step towards the analysis of this unusual desaturase reaction, the FAD4 gene was identified by mapping of the FAD4 locus and coexpression analysis with known lipid genes. FAD4 encodes a predicted integral membrane protein that appears to be unrelated to classic membrane bound fatty acid desaturases based on overall sequence conservation. However, the FAD4 protein contains two histidine motifs resembling those of metalloproteins such as fatty acid desaturases. FAD4 is targeted to the plastid. Overexpression of the cDNA in transgenic Arabidopsis led to increased accumulation of the Delta(3-trans) hexadecanoyl group in phosphatidylglycerol relative to wild type. Taken together these results are consistent with the hypothesis that FAD4 is the founding member of a novel class of fatty acid desaturases.