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AoB Plants. 2010;2010:plq020. doi: 10.1093/aobpla/plq020. Epub 2010 Oct 28.

Bilirubin present in diverse angiosperms.

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1
Department of Biological Sciences , Florida International University , 11200 SW 8 St., OE-167, Miami, FL 33199 , USA.

Abstract

BACKGROUND AND AIMS:

Bilirubin is an orange-yellow tetrapyrrole produced from the breakdown of heme by mammals and some other vertebrates. Plants, algae and cyanobacteria synthesize molecules similar to bilirubin, including the protein-bound bilins and phytochromobilin which harvest or sense light. Recently, we discovered bilirubin in the arils of Strelitzia nicolai, the White Bird of Paradise Tree, which was the first example of this molecule in a higher plant. Subsequently, we identified bilirubin in both the arils and the flowers of Strelitzia reginae, the Bird of Paradise Flower. In the arils of both species, bilirubin is present as the primary pigment, and thus functions to produce colour. Previously, no tetrapyrroles were known to generate display colour in plants. We were therefore interested in determining whether bilirubin is broadly distributed in the plant kingdom and whether it contributes to colour in other species.

METHODOLOGY:

In this paper, we use HPLC/UV and HPLC/UV/electrospray ionization-tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC/UV/ESI-MS/MS) to search for bilirubin in 10 species across diverse angiosperm lineages.

PRINCIPAL RESULTS:

Bilirubin was present in eight species from the orders Zingiberales, Arecales and Myrtales, but only contributed to colour in species within the Strelitziaceae.

CONCLUSIONS:

The wide distribution of bilirubin in angiosperms indicates the need to re-assess some metabolic details of an important and universal biosynthetic pathway in plants, and further explore its evolutionary history and function. Although colour production was limited to the Strelitziaceae in this study, further sampling may indicate otherwise.

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