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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 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 color. Previously, no tetrapyrroles were known to generate display color in plants. We were therefore interested in determining whether bilirubin is broadly distributed in the plant kingdom, and whether it contributes to color in other species.
Pirone, C., Johnson, J. V., Quirke, J. M. E., Priestap, H. A., & Lee, D. (March 29, 2010). Bilirubin present in diverse angiosperms. Aob Plants, 2010.