An in vitro system has been developed that allows the formation of translation initiation complexes with Euglena chloroplast 30S ribosomal subunits and natural mRNAs. For these experiments two regions of the Euglena chloroplast genome have been cloned behind the T7 transcriptional promoter and the corresponding RNAs synthesized in vitro. These mRNAs are capable of forming initiation complexes with chloroplast 30S subunits in the presence of fMet-tRNA and E. coli initiation factors. Deletion of the normal translation start site results in a message that is no longer recognized by the chloroplast subunits suggesting that the correct AUG initiation codon on the mRNA is being selected by the small ribosomal subunit. Initiation complex formation with the chloroplast 30S subunits is specific for chloroplast mRNAs and mRNA from the phage MS2 is not active in this system.