During tomato fruit ripening, photosynthetically competent thylakoid membranes are broken down and replaced by membranous deposits of carotenoids. Few of the proteins involved in this transition have been identified. We have used chloroplast protein import assays as a means to identify two cDNAs that encode proteins destined for the developing chromoplast. One of the cDNAs had unexpected properties and its biological function has not been determined. However, the other cDNA encodes a plastid-localized low-MW heat shock protein (hsp). The steady-state level of RNA corresponding to this cDNA increased several-fold during tomato ripening, and the amount of RNA induced by heat stress increased dramatically during this process. These observations suggest a new role for this stress protein in protecting the plastid during the dismantling of the thylakoid membranes or during the buildup of carotenoids.