To investigate the mechanisms of phytochrome action in vivo, we have overexpressed rice phytochrome in transgenic tobacco plants. A full-length rice phytochrome cDNA was fused to the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter and transferred to tobacco. The progeny of some of the transgenic plants contain large amounts of rice phytochrome mRNA in green leaves. Extracts prepared from overexpressing plants contain twofold to fivefold more spectrophotometrically detectable phytochrome than extracts from control plants. Species-specific, anti-phytochrome monoclonal antibodies were used in immunoblots to discriminate between rice and tobacco phytochrome apoproteins in fractions eluted from a DEAE-Sepharose column. Red minus far-red difference spectra of the partially purified rice phytochrome from the transgenic plants indicate that the rice phytochrome assembles with chromophore and is photoreversible. Analysis of the circadian pattern of Cab mRNA levels in transgenic plants versus controls demonstrates that the overproduction of rice phytochrome extends the duration of the free-running rhythm of Cab gene expression. The rice phytochrome is, therefore, biologically active in the transgenic tobacco plant, which establishes a system for in vivo functional analysis of phytochrome.