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Photosynthetic pigments: what are they, types and examples

Every day we witness the great energy that sunlight contains. Every time in summer we get burned from not having used sunscreen, every time we feel the heat rise from the asphalt on a hot day or, without going any further, in every plant that grows directly or indirectly touched by the sun.

The human body cannot benefit from sunlight in the same way as plants. What do they have that we lack to be able to take advantage of solar energy in this way? Two words: photosynthetic pigments. If you want to learn more about the function of photosynthetic pigments in plants, join us in this AgroCorrn article in which you will see a summary about what photosynthetic pigments are, their types and examples .

What are photosynthetic pigments

To talk about these biological pigments, more specifically vegetable pigments with a specific function, it is first convenient to talk about light. Light is an electromagnetic wave and visible light, which is what our eyes can capture and which is formed by the spectrum of colors of the rainbow, is only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is between the wavelengths of 700 and 400 nm.

Among these lengths we have red light , the one with the lowest energy, and blue light , the one with the shortest wavelength and, therefore, also the most energetic. Sunlight seems white a priori, but when we make it pass through a prism it is divided into all the components of the visible spectrum. All this explanation is necessary because most substances, when they receive sunlight, absorb some wavelengths and reflect others. We see things the color of the wavelength they reflect, while the rest of the energy is absorbed as heat.

In addition, photosynthetic pigments are molecules that have the unique ability to transform light energy into chemical energy, thus forming the basis of the photosynthesis process . And where are photosynthetic pigments found ? We can find these specialized pigments inside plant cells, specifically in chloroplasts, retained and attached to them.

Characteristics of photosynthetic pigments

The main characteristic of photosynthetic pigments is their ability to absorb light, which the photosynthesis process will convert into chemical energy and sugars assimilated by the plant or the photosynthetic organism, since in addition to those of plants, there are also photosynthetic pigments of algae and some bacteria .

The different colors of photosynthetic pigments give them the ability to absorb and reflect different wavelengths of light, so that photosynthetic organisms that have a greater diversity of them can absorb energy from a greater variety of types of light.

So, in what phase of photosynthesis are photosynthetic pigments involved? In the first of them, which is called the light phase and is one in which the pigments capture the light and absorb the energy of the photons in it. It will be the rest of the photosynthesis process that ends up converting this into the nutrients and energy necessary for the photosynthetic organism.

Types and examples of photosynthetic pigments

There are several types of photosynthetic pigments, although the main ones in terrestrial plants are two: chlorophyll and carotenoid photosynthetic pigments. Thus, this is the classification of photosynthetic pigments :


There are 5 types of chlorophyll: a, b, c and d , in addition to the bacteriochlorophyll that some prokaryotes have, and they are the green color pigment . Chlorophyll a is the only one capable of converting light into chemical energy, being essential for photosynthesis, which is why the other pigments involved are called accessory pigments, including the other chlorophylls and the other photosynthetic pigments. These accessory pigments, however, are also important, since they allow access to a greater variety of wavelengths of light to take advantage of. All photosynthetic plants, algae and cyanobacteria contain this essential chlorophyll a, while chlorophyll b, also capable of absorbing light, but not transforming it into energy, only green plants and algae have it together with some cyanobacteria.

Here you can learn more about what is chlorophyll and its types .


Unlike chlorophylls, which are green, carotenoids are colored red, yellow and orange , since they absorb violet and blue-green light. In addition to absorbing light, they fulfill the important function of giving fruits or seeds their bright colors, which help attract animals and promote dispersal. Another vital function they fulfill is to eliminate the surplus energy that the plant receives from the sun, absorbing it and dissipating it as heat. They can be classified into two subtypes: carotenes and xanthophylls . The former give yellow, orange or red colors, while the latter are always yellow.


Phycobilins are photosynthetic pigments that can only be found in red algae and cyanobacteria . They are of great importance in the field of research, being used as chemical labels due to the characteristic fluorescence they emit when exposed to intense light.

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