In Arabidopsis, mutation at PFL causes pointed first leaves, reduced fresh weight and growth retardation. We have cloned the wild-type PFL gene by T-DNA tagging, and demonstrate that it complements the mutant phenotype. PFL codes for ribosomal protein S18, based on the high homology with rat S18 and on purification of S18-equivalent peptides from plant ribosomes. pfl represents the first mutation in eukaryotic S18 proteins or their S13 prokaryotic counterparts, involved in translation initiation. Arabidopsis contains three S18 gene copies dispersed in the genetic map; they are all transcribed and code for completely identical proteins. No transcript is detected from the mutated gene, S18A. The activity of the S18A promoter is restricted to meristems, with a markedly high expression at the embryonic heart stage, and to wounding sites. This means that plants activate an extra copy of this ribosomal protein gene in tissues with cell division activity. We postulate that in meristematic tissues plants use transcriptional control to synthesize extra ribosomes to increase translational efficiency. In analogy with this, an additional, developmentally regulated gene copy might be expected for all ribosomal proteins.