Plastids (chloroplasts) possess 70S ribosomes that are very similar in structure and function to the ribosomes of their bacterial ancestors. While most components of the bacterial ribosome (ribosomal RNAs [rRNAs] and ribosomal proteins) are well conserved in the plastid ribosome, little is known about the factors mediating the biogenesis of plastid ribosomes. Here, we have investigated a putative homolog of the bacterial RbfA (for ribosome-binding factor A) protein that was identified as a cold-shock protein and an auxiliary factor acting in the 5' maturation of the 16S rRNA. The unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and the vascular plant Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) both encode a single RbfA-like protein in their nuclear genomes. By generating specific antibodies against this protein, we show that the plant RbfA-like protein functions exclusively in the plastid, where it is associated with thylakoid membranes. Analysis of mutants for the corresponding gene (termed RBF1) reveals that the gene function is essential for photoautotrophic growth. Weak mutant alleles display reduced levels of plastid ribosomes, a specific depletion in 30S ribosomal subunits, and reduced activity of plastid protein biosynthesis. Our data suggest that, while the function in ribosome maturation and 16S rRNA 5' end processing is conserved, the RBF1 protein has assumed an additional role in 3' end processing. Together with the apparent absence of a homologous protein from plant mitochondria, our findings illustrate that the assembly process of the 70S ribosome is not strictly conserved and has undergone some modifications during organelle evolution.