The moss Physcomitrella patens contains high levels of arachidonic acid. For its synthesis from linoleic acid by desaturation and elongation, novel delta 5- and delta 6-desaturases are required. To isolate one of these, PCR-based cloning was used, and resulted in the isolation of a full-length cDNA coding for a putatively new desaturase. The deduced amino acid sequence has three domains: a N-terminal segment of about 100 amino acids, with no similarity to any sequence in the data banks, followed by a cytochrome b5-related region and a C-terminal sequence with low similarity (27% identify) to acyl-lipid desaturases. To elucidate the function of this protein, we disrupted its gene by transforming P. patens with the corresponding linear genomic sequence, into which a positive selection marker had been inserted. The molecular analysis of five transformed lines showed that the selection cartridge had been inserted into the corresponding genomic locus of all five lines. The gene disruption resulted in a dramatic alteration of the fatty acid pattern in the knockout plants. The large increase in linoleic acid and the concomitant disappearance of gamma-linolenic and arachidonic acid in all knockout lines suggested that the new cDNA coded for a delta 6-desaturase. This was confirmed by expression of the cDNA in yeast and analysis of the resultant fatty acids by GC-MS. Only the transformed yeast cells were able to introduce a further double bond into the delta 6-position of unsaturated fatty acids. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a successful gene disruption in a multicellular plant resulting in a specific biochemical phenotype.