An albino mutant designated cla1-1 (for "cloroplastos alterados', or "altered chloroplasts') has been isolated from a T-DNA-generated library of Arabidopsis thaliana. In cla1-1 plants, chloroplast development is arrested at an early stage. cla1-1 plants behave like wild-type in their capacity to etiolate and produce anthocyanins indicating that the light signal transduction pathway seems to be unaffected. Genetic and molecular analyses show that the disruption of a single gene, CLA1, by the T-DNA insertion is responsible for the mutant phenotype. RNA expression patterns indicate that CLA1 is positively regulated by light and that it has different effects on the steady-state RNA levels of some nuclear- and chloroplast-encoded photosynthetic genes. Although the specific function of the CLA1 gene is still unknown, it encodes a novel protein conserved in evolution between photosynthetic bacteria and plants which is essential for chloroplast development in Arabidopsis.