The psbF mRNA is edited in spinach plastids by a C to U conversion, changing a serine to a conserved phenylalanine codon. In tobacco at this position a phenylalanine codon is present at the DNA level, and the psbF mRNA here is not edited. To test if the psbF editing capacity is evolutionarily conserved, the tobacco psbF gene was modified to match the corresponding spinach sequence. The endogenous tobacco gene was replaced with the modified copy using biolistic transformation. We report here that the heterologous editing site remains unmodified in transplastomic tobacco plants. The lack of editing is associated with slower growth, lowered chlorophyll content and high chlorophyll fluorescence, a phenotype characteristic of photosynthetic mutants. This finding confirms that the editing of the psbF mRNA is an essential processing step for protein function and thus provides direct proof for the biological significance of plant organellar RNA editing. Given that a mutant phenotype is associated with the lack of editing, it seems likely that the evolutionary loss of the site-specific capacity for psbF editing was preceded by the mutation that eliminated the editing requirement.