In pea leaves, the synthesis of 7,8-dihydropteroate, a primary step in folate synthesis, was only detected in mitochondria. This reaction is catalyzed by a bifunctional 6-hydroxymethyl-7,8-dihydropterin pyrophosphokinase/7,8-dihydropteroate synthase enzyme, which represented 0.04-0.06% of the matrix proteins. The enzyme had a native mol. wt of 280-300 kDa and was made up of identical subunits of 53 kDa. The reaction catalyzed by the 7,8-dihydropteroate synthase domain of the protein was Mg2+-dependent and behaved like a random bireactant system. The related cDNA contained an open reading frame of 1545 bp and the deduced amino acid sequence corresponded to a polypeptide of 515 residues with a calculated M(r) of 56,454 Da. Comparison of the deduced amino acid sequence with the N-terminal sequence of the purified protein indicated that the plant enzyme is synthesized with a putative mitochondrial transit peptide of 28 amino acids. The calculated M(r) of the mature protein was 53,450 Da. Southern blot experiments suggested that a single-copy gene codes for the enzyme. This result, together with the facts that the protein is synthesized with a mitochondrial transit peptide and that the activity was only detected in mitochondria, strongly supports the view that mitochondria is the major (unique?) site of 7,8-dihydropteroate synthesis in higher plant cells.