What is the purpose of carotene and xanthophyll in plants? 

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jerichorayel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Carotene and Xanthophyll are types of plant pigments that plays a role in the metabolism of plants. 

Xanthophyll -> These are the yellow pigment of the leaves and are classified as accessory pigments which absorbs the wavelength that chlorophyll cannot absorb. They serve as protection to excessive amount of sunlight to prevent further damage in the plant. Three kinds of xanthophyll are known: canthaxanthin, zeaxanthin and lutein. They are also considered antioxidants.

Carotene -> These are orange photosynthetic pigments found in plants and plays an important role in photosynthesis. They transmit the light energy that they absorb from chlorophyll. They also protect the plant by absorbing the energy of the singlet oxygen produced during the photosynthesis. There are four kinds of carotene known: alpha and beta carotene, lycopene and rhodopsin. Similar to xanthophylls, they have antioxidant properties.


rashmi0133 | Student

Xanthophylls (originally phylloxanthins) are yellow pigments that form one of two major divisions of the carotenoid group. The name is from Greek xanthos (ξανθος, "yellow") + phyllon (φύλλον, "leaf"), due to their formation of the yellow band seen in early chromatography of leaf pigments. Their molecular structure is similar to carotenes, which form the other major carotenoid group division, but xanthophylls contain oxygen atoms, while carotenes are purely hydrocarbons with no oxygen. Xanthophylls contain their oxygen either as hydroxyl groups and/or as pairs of hydrogen atoms that are substituted by oxygen atoms acting as a bridge (epoxide). For this reason, they are more polar than the purely hydrocarbon carotenes, and it is this difference that allows their separations from carotenes in many types of chromatography. Typically, carotenes are more orange in color than xanthophylls.The group of xanthophylls includes (among many other compounds) lutein, zeaxanthin, neoxanthin, violaxanthin, and α- and β-cryptoxanthin. The latter compound is the only known xanthophyll to contain a beta-ionone ring, and thus β-cryptoxanthin is the only xanthophyll that is known to possess pro-vitamin A activity for mammals.

Carotenoids are tetraterpenoid organic pigments that are naturally occurring in the chloroplasts and chromoplasts of plants and some other photosynthetic organisms like algae, some bacteria, and some types of fungus. Carotenoids can be synthesized from fats and other basic organic metabolic building blocks by all these organisms. Carotenoids generally cannot be manufactured by species in the animal kingdom (although one species of aphid is known to have acquired the genes for synthesis of the carotenoid torulene from fungi by horizontal gene transfer[1]). Animals obtain carotenoids in their diets, and may employ them in various ways in metabolism.
There are over 600 known carotenoids; they are split into two classes, xanthophylls (which contain oxygen) and carotenes (which are purely hydrocarbons, and contain no oxygen). Carotenoids in general absorb blue light. They serve two key roles in plants and algae: they absorb light energy for use in photosynthesis, and they protect chlorophyll from photodamage.[2] In humans, four carotenoids (beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin) have vitamin A activity (meaning they can be converted to retinal), and these and other carotenoids can also act as antioxidants. In the eye, certain other carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) apparently act directly to absorb damaging blue and near-ultraviolet light, in order to protect the macula lutea.
People consuming diets rich in carotenoids from natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are healthier and have lower mortality from a number of chronic illnesses.[3] However, a recent meta-analysis of 68 reliable antioxidant supplementation experiments involving a total of 232,606 individuals concluded that consuming additional β-carotene from supplements is unlikely to be beneficial and may actually be harmful,[4] although this conclusion may be due to the inclusion of studies involving smokers.[5

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