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Photosynthesis-deficient mutants of the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii were previously shown to arise from nonsense mutations within the chloroplast rbcL gene, which encodes the large subunit of ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (EC 184.108.40.206). Photosynthesiscompetent revertants of these nonsense mutants have often been found to be stably heteroplasmic, giving rise to both mutant and revertant cells during mitotic or meiotic divisions under nonselective growth conditions. It was proposed that the stable heteroplasmicity might arise from a balanced polymorphism of suppressor and wild-type alleles of a tRNA gene maintained within the polyploid chloroplast genome. In the present study, we have focused on determining the molecular basis for the heteroplasmicity of one such revertant, named R13-3C, which was recovered from the 18-7G amber (UAG) mutant. Restriction-enzyme analysis and DNA sequencing showed that the amber mutation is still present in the rbcL gene of the revertant strain. In contrast, DNA sequencing of the suspected tRNATrp gene of the revertant revealed a mutation that would change its CCA anticodon to amber-specific CUA. This mutation was found to be heteroplasmic, being present in only 70% of the tRNATrp gene copies. Under nonselective conditions, the suppressor mutation was lost from cells that also lost the revertant phenotype. We conclude that stable heteroplasmicity can arise as a balanced polymorphism of organellar alleles. This observation suggests that additional tRNA suppressors may be identified due to their heteroplasmic nature within polyploid genomes.