The phytobilin chromophores of phycobiliproteins and phytochromes are biosynthesized from heme in a pathway that begins with the opening of the tetrapyrrole macrocycle of protoheme to form biliverdin Ixα, in a reaction catalyzed by heme oxygenase. An Arabidopsis thaliana hy1 mutant was previously shown to be deficient in phytochrome responses, and these responses were regained when the plants were administered biliverdin Ixα. A heme oxygenase-encoding gene, ho1, was recently cloned from the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. Pcc 6803. When ho1 was expressed in Escherichia coli, the cells produced active ferredoxin-dependent soluble heme oxygenase. The open reading frame of ho1 was fused in frame with a chloroplast transit peptide-encoding sequence from the oli gene of Antirrhinum majus. This construct was placed in a binary plasmid vector containing a kanamycin resistance marker and a cauliflower mosaic virus 35s promoter to control expression of the chimeric oli-ho1 gene and used to transform A. thaliana hy1 plants. Two independent transformed lines were obtained that had the phenotype of the parental Landsberg erecta line and expressed the chimeric gene, as indicated by detection of its mRNA by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. The results indicate that Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 heme oxygenase encoded by ho1 can substitute for the defective HY1 gene product and that the only required enzyme activity of the HY1 gene product is heme oxygenase.