Castor bean (Ricinus communis L.) seedlings responded to stress by producing the antifungal diterpene, casbene. Casbene synthetase, the enzyme catalyzing the production of casbene from geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate, was purified 4700-fold to a final specific activity of 4.2 nkat/mg protein by a combination of ion-exchange and dye-ligand chromatographic procedures. Approximately 500 micrograms of purified enzyme was recovered from 1600 seedlings that had been infected with the fungus, Rhizopus stolonifer. The purified enzyme showed a single protein band, by Ag staining, of Mr 59,000 +/- 1000 after sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Electrophoretic analysis of the immunoprecipitate obtained from a crude enzyme extract and polyclonal rabbit antibodies raised against the purified enzyme revealed no contaminants or cross-reacting components. In vitro translation of polysomal RNA pools obtained from healthy castor bean seedlings and seedlings at various times after exposure to pectic fragment elicitors coupled with immunoprecipitation showed that healthy seedlings have nondetectable levels of casbene synthetase mRNA and that seedlings exposed to elicitor show a rapid increase in casbene synthetase mRNA which reaches a maximum after 6 h. Casbene synthetase activity increases to a maximum 10 h after elicitation under comparable conditions. These results show that increases in the activity of mRNA for casbene synthetase after elicitation by pectic fragments precede the appearance of casbene synthetase activity as would be expected if the enzyme were being synthesized de novo.