In the chloroplasts of higher plants and algae, the biosynthesis of the chlorophyll precursor delta-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) involves at least three enzymes and a tRNA species. Here we demonstrate that in cell extracts of the unicellular cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6803 ALA was formed from glutamate in a series of reactions in which activation of glutamate by glutamyl-tRNAGlu formation was the first step. The activated glutamate was reduced by a dehydrogenase which displayed tRNA sequence specificity. Fractionation of strain 6803 tRNA by reverse-phase chromatography and polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis yielded two pure tRNAGlu species which stimulated ALA synthesis in vitro. These tRNAs had identical primary sequences but differed in the nucleotide modification of their anticodon. The 6803 tRNAGlu was similar to the sequences of tRNAGlu species or tRNAGlu genes from Escherichia coli and from chloroplasts of Euglena gracilis and higher plants. Southern blot analysis revealed at least two tRNAGlu gene copies in the 6803 chromosome. A glutamate-1-semialdehyde aminotransferase, the terminal enzyme in the conversion of glutamate to ALA in chloroplasts, was detected in 6803 cell extracts by the conversion of glutamate-1-semialdehyde to ALA and by the inhibition of this reaction by gabaculin.