Exploiting genetic variation for more efficient photosynthesis is an underexplored route towards new crop varieties. This study demonstrates the genetic dissection of higher plant photosynthesis efficiency down to the genomic DNA level, by confirming that allelic sequence variation at the Arabidopsis thaliana YELLOW SEEDLING1 (YS1) gene explains natural diversity in photosynthesis acclimation to high irradiance. We use a genome-wide association study to identify quantitative trait loci (QTLs) involved in the Arabidopsis photosynthetic acclimation response. Candidate genes underlying the QTLs are prioritized according to functional clues regarding gene ontology, expression and function. Reverse genetics and quantitative complementation confirm the candidacy of YS1, which encodes a pentatrico-peptide-repeat (PPR) protein involved in RNA editing of plastid-encoded genes (anterograde signalling). Gene expression analysis and allele sequence comparisons reveal polymorphisms in a light-responsive element in the YS1 promoter that affect its expression, and that of its downstream targets, resulting in the variation in photosynthetic acclimation.