What molecule am I?
Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants, algae, and cyanobacteria that is essential for photosynthesis. Its central structure is an aromatic porphyrin or chlorin (reduced porphyrin) ring system with a sequestered magnesium atom. A fifth ring is fused to the porphyrin.
Chlorophyll is not a single molecule: There are at least six varieties that have various side groups on the rings. In most chlorophylls, one of the groups is a long phytyl ester chain.
Chlorophyll a, shown here, is called the “universal” chlorophyll because it is present in almost all photosynthetic organisms. It has been known since 1817, but scientists did not realize that it contains magnesium until 1906.
By far the most important “application” of chlorophyll is photosynthesis; but it has also been used as a green coloring agent in foods, cosmetics, soaps, and alcoholic beverages. Its ester side chain can be cleaved to obtain phytol, an alcohol used in the synthesis of vitamins E and K1. It’s even been tried as an antiknock additive for gasoline.
Why is chlorophyll green? The bonding in many metal–organic coordination compounds causes them to absorb some wavelengths of white light while reflecting others. In the case of chlorophyll, light wavelengths in the blue and red regions of the spectrum are required for the pigment to do its business. Chlorophyll absorbs them; but it does not need to use green light, which is reflected to produce the intense green color of leaves.
January 26 is National Green Juice Day. (Yes, there is such a thing.) It’s a perfect time to get your fill of chlorophyll.
Learn more about this molecule from CAS, the most authoritative and comprehensive source for chemical information.