Chlorophyll production involves the synthesis of photoreactive intermediates that, when in excess, are toxic due to the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). A novel, activation-tagged barley (Hordeum vulgare) mutant is described that results from antisense suppression of a uroporphyrinogen III synthase (Uros) gene, the product of which catalyzes the sixth step in the synthesis of chlorophyll and heme. In homozygous mutant plants, uroporphyrin(ogen) I accumulates by spontaneous cyclization of hydroxyl methylbilane, the substrate of Uros. Accumulation of this tetrapyrrole intermediate results in photosensitive cell death due to the production of ROS. The efficiency of Uros gene suppression is developmentally regulated, being most effective in mature seedling leaves compared with newly emergent leaves. Reduced transcript accumulation of a number of nuclear-encoded photosynthesis genes occurs in the mutant, even under 3% light conditions, consistent with a retrograde plastid-nuclear signaling mechanism arising from Uros gene suppression. A similar set of nuclear genes was repressed in wild-type barley following treatment with a singlet oxygen-generating herbicide, but not by a superoxide generating herbicide, suggesting that the retrograde signaling apparent in the mutant is specific to singlet oxygen
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