Respiratory Pigments: Animals & Explanation

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  • 0:02 What is a Respiratory Pigment?
  • 0:30 How Does It Work?
  • 1:11 Where Does the Pigment…
  • 1:41 Organisms That Don't…
  • 2:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Enzor

Laura has a Master's degree in Biology and is working on her PhD in Biology. She specializes in teaching Human Physiology at USC.

A respiratory pigment is a molecule which increases the oxygen carrying capacity of blood. Learn more about the most common respiratory pigment in mammals, hemoglobin, as well as how it works. Also, discover the different types of respiratory pigments used by other organisms.

What Is a Respiratory Pigment?

A respiratory pigment is any molecule that increases the oxygen carrying capacity of blood. The oxygen carrying capacity is simply the amount of oxygen the red blood cells in our blood can carry to our tissues and organs. In humans and most other vertebrates, the most common respiratory pigment is a protein called hemoglobin. Respiratory pigments also pick up carbon dioxide from our tissues and bring it to our lungs, where we exhale it.

How Does it Work?

In mammals and most other organisms, red blood cells (RBCs) are anucleated. This means they don't have a nucleus. The absence of a nucleus allows for more hemoglobin to be contained within the cell, allowing for more oxygen or carbon dioxide to be transported around our body.

The RBCs in our body travel to the pulmonary capillaries of our lungs, where oxygen binds to hemoglobin (now called oxyhemoglobin). The oxygen-rich blood cells then travel around our body, delivering oxygen where we need it and picking up carbon dioxide as a waste product (now called deoxygenated hemoglobin).

Where Does the Pigment Come In?

Hemoglobin is referred to as a respiratory pigment because it provides the 'red' color to red blood cells and our muscles. Have you ever noticed that bright orange/red color of rust? That color forms because iron is being oxidized. Iron is a major component of hemoglobin, so in the presence of oxygen, our blood appears red. Since most of our muscles are fueled by oxygen, they appear red as well. However, in our muscles, we don't find hemoglobin, but a close relative, myoglobin.

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