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Related to Phycobilin: anthocyanin, fucoxanthin


Any member of a class of intensely colored pigments found in some algae that absorb light for photo­synthesis. Phycobilins are structurally related to mammalian bile pigments, and they are unique among photosynthetic pigments in being covalently bound to proteins (phycobiliproteins). In at least two groups of algae, phycobiliproteins are aggregated in a highly ordered protein complex called a phycobilisome.

Phycobilins occur only in three groups of algae: cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), Rhodophyta (red algae), and Cryptophyceae (cryptophytes), and are largely responsible for their distinctive colors, including blue-green, yellow, and red. Five different phycobilins have been identified to date, but the two most common are phycocyanobilin, a blue pigment, and phycoerythrobilin, a red pigment. In the cell, these pigments absorb light maximally in the orange (620-nanometers) and green (550-nm) portion of the visible light spectrum, respectively. A blue-green light (495-nm) absorbing pigment, phycourobilin, is found in some cyanobacteria and red algae. A yellow light (575-nm) absorbing pigment, phycobiliviolin (also called cryptoviolin) is apparently found in all cryptophytes but in only a few cyanobacteria. A fifth phycobilin, which absorbs deep-red light (697 nm), has been identified spectrally in some cryptophytes, but its chemical properties are unknown.

Phycobilins are associated with the photosynthetic light-harvesting system in chloroplasts of red algae and cryptophytes and with the photosynthetic membranes of cyanobacteria, which lack chloroplasts. Phycobilins are covalently bound to a water-soluble protein that aggregates on the surface of the photosynthetic membrane. All other photosynthetic pigments (for example, chlorophylls and carotenoids) are bound to photosynthetic membrane proteins by hydrophobic attraction. Phycobiliprotein can constitute a major fraction of an alga. In some cyanobacteria, phycobiliproteins can account for more than 50% of the soluble protein and one-quarter of the dry weight of the cell. See Cell plastids

Phycobilins are photosynthetic accessory pigments that absorb light efficiently in the yellow, green, orange, or red portion of the light spectrum, where chlorophyll a only weakly absorbs. Light energy absorbed by phycobilins is transferred with greater than 90% efficiency to chlorophyll a, where it is used for photosynthesis. See Chlorophyll, Photosynthesis

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



any one of the pigments of red and blue-green algae; phycoerythrins are red, and phycocyanins blue. Phycobilins are chromoproteins whose nonprotein portion consists of chromophores analogous to bile acids. They mask the color of chlorophyll, the principal pigment of photosynthesis. They are secreted in crystalline form.

Phycobilins contain 85 percent amino acids, 5 percent carbohydrates, and 4–5 percent chromophores. They account for as much as 20 percent of the dry weight of algae. They are localized within the cell in special particles—phycobilosomes. The pigments, which absorb quanta of light in the yellow-green region of the spectrum, transmit absorbed light energy to photochemically active chlorophyll molecules. Often only the nonprotein (chromophoric) part of these pigments is called phycobilin.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Any of various protein-bound pigments which are open-chain tetrapyrroles and occur in some groups of algae.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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Apart from the presence of chl b and the absence of phycobilins,
through loss of phycobilins and gain of chl b (and their associated
light-harvesting complexes involving chl b (rather than phycobilins).
this ancestor of the ability to synthesize phycobilins would, according
phycobilins, might also be regarded as the ancestor of the lineage