, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 11–43 | Cite as

Living off the Sun: chlorophylls, bacteriochlorophylls and rhodopsins



Pigments absorbing 350–1,050 nm radiation have had an important role on the Earth for at least 3.5 billion years. The ion pumping rhodopsins absorb blue and green photons using retinal and pump ions across cell membranes. Bacteriochlorophylls (BChl), absorbing in the violet/blue and near infra red (NIR), power anoxygenic photosynthesis, with one photoreaction centre; and chlorophylls (Chl), absorbing in the violet/blue and red (occasionally NIR) power oxygenic photosynthesis, with two photoreaction centres. The accessory (bacterio)chlorophylls add to the spectral range (bandwidth) of photon absorption, e.g., in algae living at depth in clear oceanic water and in algae and photosynthetic (PS) bacteria in microbial mats. Organism size, via the package effect, determines the photon absorption benefit of the costs of synthesis of the pigment–protein complexes. There are unresolved issues as to the evolution of Chls vs. BChls and the role of violet/blue and NIR radiation in PS bacteria.



aerobic anoxygenic aerobic photosynthesis






electron transport rate


Great Oxidation Event


high performance liquid chromatography


light-emitting diode


lateral gene transfer


magnesium-2,4-divinyl phaeoporphyrin monomethyl ester A5




reaction center


thin layer chromatography




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Copyright information

© The Institute of Experimental Botany 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. W. D. Larkum
    • 1
  • R. J. Ritchie
    • 2
  • J. A. Raven
    • 3
    • 1
  1. 1.Global Climate Cluster, Building 4University of Technology SydneyBroadwayAustralia
  2. 2.Tropical Environmental Plant Biology Unit, Faculty of Technology and EnvironmentPrince of Songkla University PhuketKathu, PhuketThailand
  3. 3.University of Dundee at the James Hutton InstituteInvergowrie, DundeeUK

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