Rice (Oryza sativa L.), the major food staple for more than two billion people, contains neither beta-carotene (provitamin A) nor C40 carotenoid precursors thereof in its endosperm. To improve the nutritional value of rice, genetic engineering was chosen as a means to introduce the ability to make beta-carotene into rice endosperm tissue. Investigation of the biochemical properties of immature rice endosperm using [14C]-labelled substrates revealed the presence of geranyl geranyl diphosphate, the C20 general isoprenoid precursor necessary for C40 carotenoid biosynthesis. Phytoene synthase, which condenses two molecules of geranyl geranyl diphosphate, is the first of four specific enzymes necessary for beta-carotene biosynthesis in plants. Therefore, the Japonica rice model variety Taipei 309 was transformed by microprojectile bombardment with a cDNA coding for phytoene synthase from daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) under the control of either a constitutive or an endosperm-specific promoter. In transgenic rice plants, the daffodil enzyme is active, as measured by the in vivo accumulation of phytoene in rice endosperm. Thus, it is demonstrated for the first time that it is in principle possible to engineer a critical step in provitamin A biosynthesis in a non-photosynthetic, carotenoid-lacking plant tissue. These results have important implications for long-term prospects of overcoming worldwide vitamin A deficiency.