Those plastids that contain chlorophyll can carry out photosynthesis and are called chloroplasts. Plastids can also store products like starch and can synthesize fatty acids and terpenes, which can be used for producing energy and as raw material for the synthesis of other molecules. For example, the components of the plant cuticle and its epicuticular wax are synthesized by the epidermal cells from palmitic acid, which is synthesized in the chloroplasts of the mesophyll tissue. All plastids are derived from proplastids, which are present in the meristematic regions of the plant. Proplastids and young chloroplasts commonly divide by binary fission, but more mature chloroplasts also have this capacity.
Depending on their morphology and function, plastids have the ability to differentiate, or redifferentiate, between these and other forms.
Each plastid creates multiple copies of a circular 75–250 kilobase plastome. The number of genome copies per plastid is variable, ranging from more than 1000 in rapidly dividing cells, which, in general, contain few plastids, to 100 or fewer in mature cells, where plastid divisions have given rise to a large number of plastids. The plastome contains about 100 genes encoding ribosomal and transfer ribonucleic acids (rRNAs and tRNAs) as well as proteins involved in photosynthesis and plastid gene transcription and translation. However, these proteins only represent a small fraction of the total protein set-up necessary to build and maintain the structure and function of a particular type of plastid. Plant nuclear genes encode the vast majority of plastid proteins, and the expression of plastid genes and nuclear genes is tightly co-regulated to coordinate proper development of plastids in relation to cell differentiation.
Plastid DNA exists as large protein-DNA complexes associated with the inner envelope membrane and called 'plastid nucleoids'. Each nucleoid particle may contain more than 10 copies of the plastid DNA. The proplastid contains a single nucleoid located in the centre of the plastid. The developing plastid has many nucleoids, localized at the periphery of the plastid, bound to the inner envelope membrane. During the development of proplastids to chloroplasts, and when plastids convert from one type to another, nucleoids change in morphology, size and location within the organelle. The remodelling of nucleoids is believed to occur by modifications to the composition and abundance of nucleoid proteins.
Many plastids, particularly those responsible for photosynthesis, possess numerous internal membrane layers.