Animal pigment bilirubin discovered in plants

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The bile pigment bilirubin-IXα is the degradative product of heme, distributed among mammals and some other vertebrates. It can be recognized as the pigment responsible for the yellow color of jaundice and healing bruises. In this paper we present the first example of the isolation of bilirubin in plants. The compound was isolated from the brilliant orange-colored arils of Strelitzia nicolai, the white bird of paradise tree, and characterized by HPLC−ESMS, UV−visible, 1H NMR, and 13C NMR spectroscopy, as well as comparison with an authentic standard. This discovery indicates that plant cyclic tetrapyrroles may undergo degradation by a previously unknown pathway. Preliminary analyses of related plants, including S. reginae, the bird of paradise, also revealed bilirubin in the arils and flowers, indicating that the occurrence of bilirubin is not limited to a single species or tissue type.

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