Carotenoids are essential photoprotective and antioxidant pigments synthesized by all photosynthetic organisms. Most carotenoid biosynthetic enzymes were thought to have evolved independently in bacteria and plants. For example, in bacteria, a single enzyme (Crtl) catalyzes the four desaturations leading from the colorless compound phytoene to the red compound lycopene, whereas plants require two desaturases (phytoene and ?-carotene desaturases) that are unrelated to the bacterial enzyme. We have demonstrated that carotenoid desaturation in plants requires a third distinct enzyme activity, the carotenoid isomerase (CRTISO), which, unlike phytoene and ?-carotene desaturases, apparently arose from a progenitor bacterial desaturase. The Arabidopsis CRTISO locus was identified by the partial inhibition of lutein synthesis in light-grown tissue and the accumulation of poly-cis-carotene precursors in dark-grown tissue of crtISO mutants. After positional cloning, enzymatic analysis of CRTISO expressed in Escherichia coli confirmed that the enzyme catalyzes the isomerization of poly-cis-carotenoids to all-trans-carotenoids. Etioplasts of dark-grown crtISO mutants accumulate acyclic poly-cis-carotenoids in place of cyclic all-trans-xanthophylls and also lack prolamellar bodies (PLBs), the lattice of tubular membranes that defines an etioplast. This demonstrates a requirement for carotenoid biosynthesis to form the PLB. The absence of PLBs in crtISO mutants demonstrates a function for this unique structure and carotenoids in facilitating chloroplast development during the first critical days of seedling germination and photomorphogenesis.