Intact spinach (Spinacia oleracea) chloroplasts, pulse-labeled with [(14)C]acetate, desaturate newly formed fatty acids as ester groups of monogalactosyl diacylglycerol in a subsequent chase in the dark. Rupture of pulse-labeled chloroplasts by addition of a detergent solution 3-([3-cholamidopropyl]dimethylammonio)-1-propane sulfonate preserves part of this desaturation activity. Direct addition of different free fatty acids together with appropriate cofactors to detergent-ruptured chloroplasts results in fatty acid labeling of monogalactosyl diacylglycerol. During subsequent incubation these lipid-linked fatty acids are desaturated, i.e. 18:1 to 18:2 and 18:3 and to a small extent also 16:0 to 16:3. The formation of 18:2 was also observed after incorporation of 18:1 into sulfolipid and phosphatidyl choline. Density gradient centrifugation separated a membrane fraction from detergent-ruptured chloroplasts which in the presence of appropriate cofactors incorporated 18:1 and 18:2 into the above-mentioned lipids. In the light, desaturation was dependent on added ferredoxin, whereas in the dark, in addition to ferredoxin NAD(P)H was also required. Preliminary evidence for the involvement of membrane-bound ferredoxin:NADP oxidoreductase (FNR) as a third component of desaturation in the dark was obtained by inhibitor studies including antibodies against FNR. Desaturation of lipid-bound 18:1 and 18:2 resembles stearoyl-ACP desaturation with respect to its requirement of reduced ferredoxin and oxygen.