The transient expression of three novel plant amber suppressors derived from a cloned Nicotiana tRNA(Ser)(CGA), an Arabidopsis intron-containing tRNA(Tyr)(GTA) and an Arabidopsis intron-containing tRNA(Met)(CAT) gene, respectively, was studied in a homologous plant system that utilized the Agro bacterium-mediated gene transfer to Arabidopsis hypocotyl explants. This versatile system allows the detection of beta-glucuronidase (GUS) activity by histochemical and enzymatic analyses. The activity of the suppressors was demonstrated by the ability to suppress a premature amber codon in a modified GUS gene. Co-transformation of Arabidopsis hypocotyls with the amber suppressor tRNA(Ser) gene and the GUS reporter gene resulted in approximately 10% of the GUS activity found in the same tissue transformed solely with the functional control GUS gene. Amber suppressor tRNAs derived from intron-containing tRNA(Tyr) or tRNA(Met) genes were functional in vivo only after some additional gene manipulations. The G3:C70 base pair in the acceptor stem of tRNA(Met)(CUA) had to be converted to a G3:U70 base pair, which is the major determinant for alanine tRNA identity. The inability of amber suppressor tRNA(Tyr) to show any activity in vivo predominantly results from a distorted intron secondary structure of the corresponding pre-tRNA that could be cured by a single nucleotide exchange in the intervening sequence. The improved amber suppressors tRNA(Tyr) and tRNA(Met) were subsequently employed for studying various aspects of the plant-specific mechanism of pre-tRNA splicing as well as for demonstrating the influence of intron-dependent base modifications on suppressor activity.