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Chlorophyll in Plants: Benefits, Function & Definition

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  • 0:01 What is Chlorophyll?
  • 0:40 Function
  • 1:56 Benefits
  • 2:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

What makes plants green? A small molecule with a big job called chlorophyll is responsible for this, and it's also what helps plants get energy from the sun. Learn about chlorophyll in this lesson.

What Is Chlorophyll?

It's not easy being green, but plants are pretty well known for it. There is a small, but very important molecule responsible for this called chlorophyll. All plants have chlorophyll, which is a green pigment in leaves and stems.

Chlorophyll is a light-absorbing pigment, and it actually gets its green color because it absorbs blue and red wavelengths of light. The green wavelengths are reflected, giving that unmistakable color to plants. Since it is a light-absorbing pigment, chlorophyll is called a photoreceptor. Also note that there are two types of chlorophyll: chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b.

Function

Chlorophyll molecules are contained inside chloroplasts, which are the food producers of the cell found in all green parts of a plant. Inside the chloroplasts, we also find thylakoid membranes, which contain photosystems. Photosystems are made of a group of light-harvesting complexes, which is just a fancy term for pigment molecules and proteins. Two photosystems have been identified: photosystem I and photosystem II.

The chlorophyll molecules are arranged in and around the photosystems, and this allows them to transfer the light energy into the center of the photosystem. This light energy comes from photons. Photons are one way that light travels, as discrete packets of energy.

When light energy is passed by chlorophyll molecules to the center of photosystem II (the first photosystem in the chain), it energizes a central chlorophyll molecule called P680. This molecule is so energized that it is passed along another chain to photosystem I. It is then sent to the central chlorophyll molecule there: P700. This process, called photosynthesis, is how plants convert sunlight into usable chemical energy.

Benefits

Chlorophyll is a vital component of photosynthesis, which is how plants get their energy. But photosynthesis isn't just important to plants; it's also essential to most other living things on Earth. Through photosynthesis, plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the air, which is the oxygen that we need to breathe. Photosynthesis is also important because many animals eat plants and use the energy that has been converted from the sun to fuel their own bodies.

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