The signal transduction pathways that lead to chloroplast biogenesis in plants are largely unknown. We describe here the identification and initial characterization of a novel genetic locus which fits the criteria of a regulatory gene located in a central pathway controlling light-mediated development. In the absence of light, these Arabidopsis thaliana mutants, designated det1 (de-etiolated 1), constitutively display many characteristics that are light-dependent in wild-type plants, including leaf and chloroplast development, anthocyanin accumulation, and accumulation of mRNAs for several light-regulated nuclear and chloroplast genes. The switch between dark and light growth modes thus appears to be a programmed step in a developmental pathway that is defined by det1. We suggest a model where the primary role of light on gene expression is mediated by the activation of leaf development. Further, the recessive nature of the det1 mutation implies that there is negative growth control on leaf development in dicotyledonous plants in the absence of light.