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Plant cells with visible chloroplasts.

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Chloroplasts are organelles found in plant cells and eukaryotic algae that conduct photosynthesis. Chloroplasts absorb light and use it in conjunction with water and carbon dioxide to produce sugars, the raw material for energy and biomass production in all green plants and the animals that depend on them, directly or indirectly, for food. Chloroplasts capture light energy to conserve free energy in the form of ATP and reduce NADP to NADPH through a complex set of processes called photosynthesis. It is derived from the Greek words chloros which means green and plast which means form or entity. Chloroplasts are members of a class of organelles known as plastids.

Evolutionary origin

Chloroplasts are one of the many unique organelles in the plant cell. They are generally considered to have originated as endosymbiotic cyanobacteria (i.e. blue-green algae). This was first suggested by Mereschkowsky in 1905 [1] after an observation by Schimper in 1883 that chloroplasts closely resemble cyanobacteria. [2] All eukaryote chloroplasts are thought to derive directly or indirectly from a single endosymbiotic event (in the Archaeplastida), except for Paulinella chromatophora, which has recently acquired a photosynthetic cyanobacterial endosymbiont which is not closely related to chloroplasts of other eukaryotes.[3] In that they derive from an endosymbiotic event, chloroplasts are similar to mitochondria but chloroplasts are found only in plants and protista. The chloroplast is surrounded by a double-layered composite membrane with an intermembrane space; it has its own DNA and is involved in energy metabolism. Further, it has reticulations, or many infoldings, filling the inner spaces.

In green plants, chloroplasts are surrounded by two lipid-bilayer membranes. The inner membrane is now believed to correspond to the outer membrane of the ancestral cyanobacterium. Chloroplasts have their own genome, which is considerably reduced compared to that of free-living cyanobacteria, but the parts that are still present show clear similarities with the cyanobacterial genome. Plastids may contain 60-100 genes whereas cyanobacteria often contain more than 1500 genes.[4] Many of the missing genes are encoded in the nuclear genome of the host. The transfer of nuclear information has been estimated in tobacco plants at one gene for every 16000 pollen grains.[5]

In some algae (such as the heterokonts and other protists such as Euglenozoa and Cercozoa), chloroplasts seem to have evolved through a secondary event of endosymbiosis, in which a eukaryotic cell engulfed a second eukaryotic cell containing chloroplasts, forming chloroplasts with three or four membrane layers. In some cases, such secondary endosymbionts may have themselves been engulfed by still other eukaryotes, thus forming tertiary endosymbionts.


Chloroplasts are observable morphologically as flat discs usually 2 to 10 micrometer in diameter and 1 micrometer thick. The chloroplast is contained by an envelope that consists of an inner and an outer phospholipid membrane. Between these two layers is the intermembrane space.

The material within the chloroplast is called the stroma, corresponding to the cytosol of the original bacterium, and contains one or more molecules of small circular DNA. It also contains ribosomes, although most of its proteins are encoded by genes contained in the host cell nucleus, with the protein products transported to the chloroplast.

Within the stroma are stacks of thylakoids, the sub-organelles which are the site of photosynthesis. The thylakoids are arranged in stacks called grana (singular: granum). A thylakoid has a flattened disk shape. Inside it is an empty area called the thylakoid space or lumen. Photosynthesis takes place on the thylakoid membrane; as in mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, it involves the coupling of cross-membrane fluxes with biosynthesis via the dissipation of a proton electrochemical gradient.

Embedded in the thylakoid membrane is the antenna complex, which consists of proteins, and light-absorbing pigments, including chlorophyll and carotenoids. This complex both increases the surface area for light capture, and allows capture of photons with a wider range of wavelengths. The energy of the incident photons is absorbed by the pigments and funneled to the reaction centre of this complex through resonance energy transfer. Two chlorophyll molecules are then ionised, producing an excited electron which then passes onto the photochemical reaction centre.

Transplastomic plants

Recently, chloroplasts have caught attention by developers of genetically modified plants. In certain plant species, such as tobacco, chloroplasts are not inherited from the male, and therefore, transgenes in these plastids cannot be disseminated by pollen. This makes plastid transformation a valuable tool for the creation and cultivation of genetically modified plants that are biologically contained, thus posing significantly lower environmental risks. This biological containment strategy is therefore suitable for establishing the coexistence of conventional and organic agriculture. The reliability of this mechanism has not yet been studied for all relevant crop species. However, the research programme Co-Extra recently published results for tobacco plants, demonstrating that the containment of transplastomic plants is highly reliable with a tiny failure rate of 3 in 1,000,000.[6]

See also


  1. Mereschkowsky C (1905). "Über Natur und Ursprung der Chromatophoren im Pflanzenreiche". Biol Centralbl. 25: 593–604.
  2. Schimper AFW (1883). "Über die Entwicklung der Chlorophyllkörner und Farbkörper". Bot. Zeitung. 41: 105–14, 121–31, 137–46, 153–62.
  3. Patrick J. Keeling (2004). "Diversity and evolutionary history of plastids and their hosts". American Journal of Botany. 91: 1481–1493.
  4. Martin W, Rujan T, Richly E, Hansen A, Cornelson S, Lins T, Leister D, Stoebe B, Hasegawa M, Penny D (2002). "Evolutionary analysis of Arabidopsis, cyanobacterial, and chloroplast genomes reveals plastid phylogeny and thousands of cyanobacterial genes in the nucleus". Proc Natl Acad Sci. 99: 12246–12251.
  5. Huang CY, Ayliffe MA, Timmis JN (2003 Mar 6). "Direct measurement of the transfer rate of chloroplast DNA into the nucleus". Nature. 422 (6927): 72–6. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. Ruf S, Karcher D, Bock R (2007 Apr 24). "Determining the transgene containment level provided by chloroplast transformation". PNAS. 104 (17): 6998–7002. Check date values in: |date= (help)

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