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Porra, Robert J.; Schäfer, Wolfram; Cmiel, Edmund; Katheder, Ingrid and Scheer, Hugo (1994): The derivation of the formyl-group oxygen of chlorophyll b in higher plants from molecular oxygen. Achievement of high enrichment of the 7-formyl-group oxygen from 18O2 in greening maize leaves. In: European Journal of Biochemistry, Vol. 219, No. 1-2: pp. 671-679 [PDF, 944kB]


The mechanism of formation of the formyl group of chlorophyll b has long been obscure but, in this paper, the origin of the 7-formyl-group oxygen of chlorophyll b in higher plants was determined by greening etiolated maize leaves, excised from dark-grown plants, by illumination under white light in the presence of either H218O or 18O2 and examining the newly synthesized chlorophylls by mass spectroscopy. To minimize the possible loss of 18O label from the 7-formyl substituent by reversible formation of chlorophyll b-71-gem-diol (hydrate) with unlabelled water in the cell, the formyl group was reduced to a hydroxymethyl group during extraction with methanol containing NaBH4: chlorophyll a remained unchanged during this rapid reductive extraction process.

Mass spectra of chlorophyll a and [7-hydroxymethyl]-chlorophyll b extracted from leaves greened in the presence of either H218O or 18O2 revealed that 18O was incorporated only from molecular oxygen but into both chlorophylls: the mass spectra were consistent with molecular oxygen providing an oxygen atom not only for incorporation into the 7-formyl group of chlorophyll b but also for the well-documented incorporation into the 131-oxo group of both chlorophylls a and b [see Walker, C. J., Mansfield, K. E., Smith, K. M. & Castelfranco, P. A. (1989) Biochem. J. 257, 599–602]. The incorporation of isotope led to as much as 77% enrichment of the 131-oxo group of chlorophyll a: assuming identical incorporation into the 131 oxygen of chlorophyll b, then enrichment of the 7-formyl oxygen was as much as 93%. Isotope dilution by re-incorporation of photosynthetically produced oxygen from unlabelled water was negligible as shown by a greening experiment in the presence of 3-(3,4-dichlorophenyl)-1,1-dimethylurea.

The high enrichment using 18O2, and the absence of labelling by H218O, unequivocally demonstrates that molecular oxygen is the sole precursor of the 7-formyl oxygen of chlorophyll b in higher plants and strongly suggests a single pathway for the formation of the chlorophyll b formyl group involving the participation of an oxygenase-type enzyme.

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