Norin 1, a progenitor of many economically important Japanese rice strains, is highly sensitive to the damaging effects of UVB radiation (wavelengths 290 to 320 nm). Norin 1 seedlings are deficient in photorepair of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers. However, the molecular origin of this deficiency was not known and, because rice photolyase genes have not been cloned and sequenced, could not be determined by examining photolyase structural genes or upstream regulatory elements for mutations. We therefore used a photoflash approach, which showed that the deficiency in photorepair in vivo resulted from a functionally altered photolyase. These results were confirmed by studies with extracts, which showed that the Norin 1 photolyase-dimer complex was highly thermolabile relative to the wild-type Sasanishiki photolyase. This deficiency results from a structure/function alteration of photolyase rather than of nonspecific repair, photolytic, or regulatory elements. Thus, the molecular origin of this plant DNA repair deficiency, resulting from a spontaneously occurring mutation to UV radiation sensitivity, is defective photolyase.