Ask a question about 'Chloroplast'
Start a new discussion about 'Chloroplast'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum

Chloroplasts (ˈklɒrəplæsts) are organelle
In cell biology, an organelle is a specialized subunit within a cell that has a specific function, and is usually separately enclosed within its own lipid bilayer....

s found in plant cell
Plant cell
Plant cells are eukaryotic cells that differ in several key respects from the cells of other eukaryotic organisms. Their distinctive features include:...

s and other eukaryotic
A eukaryote is an organism whose cells contain complex structures enclosed within membranes. Eukaryotes may more formally be referred to as the taxon Eukarya or Eukaryota. The defining membrane-bound structure that sets eukaryotic cells apart from prokaryotic cells is the nucleus, or nuclear...

 organisms that conduct photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is a chemical process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars, using the energy from sunlight. Photosynthesis occurs in plants, algae, and many species of bacteria, but not in archaea. Photosynthetic organisms are called photoautotrophs, since they can...

. Chloroplasts capture light
Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has wavelength in a range from about 380 nanometres to about 740 nm, with a frequency range of about 405 THz to 790 THz...

In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

 to conserve free energy
Thermodynamic free energy
The thermodynamic free energy is the amount of work that a thermodynamic system can perform. The concept is useful in the thermodynamics of chemical or thermal processes in engineering and science. The free energy is the internal energy of a system less the amount of energy that cannot be used to...

 in the form of ATP
Adenosine triphosphate
Adenosine-5'-triphosphate is a multifunctional nucleoside triphosphate used in cells as a coenzyme. It is often called the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy transfer. ATP transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism...

 and reduce NADP to NADPH through a complex set of processes called photosynthesis.

Chloroplasts are green because they contain the chlorophyll
Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in almost all plants, algae, and cyanobacteria. Its name is derived from the Greek words χλωρος, chloros and φύλλον, phyllon . Chlorophyll is an extremely important biomolecule, critical in photosynthesis, which allows plants to obtain energy from light...

 pigment. The word chloroplast (χλωροπλάστης) is derived from the Greek words chloros (χλωρός), which means green, and plastis (πλάστης), which means "the one who forms". Chloroplasts are members of a class of organelles known as plastid
Plastids are major organelles found in the cells of plants and algae. Plastids are the site of manufacture and storage of important chemical compounds used by the cell...


Evolutionary origin

Chloroplasts are one of the many different types of organelles in the plant cell. In general, they are considered to have originated from cyanobacteria through endosymbiosis
Endosymbiotic theory
The endosymbiotic theory concerns the mitochondria, plastids , and possibly other organelles of eukaryotic cells. According to this theory, certain organelles originated as free-living bacteria that were taken inside another cell as endosymbionts...

. This was first suggested by Mereschkowsky
Konstantin Mereschkowski
Konstantin Mereschcowsky was a prominent Russian biologist, botanist and advocate of eugenics active mainly around Kazan, whose research on lichens led him to propose the theory of symbiogenesis - that larger, more complex cells evolved from the symbiotic relationship between less complex ones...

 in 1905 after an observation by Schimper
Andreas Franz Wilhelm Schimper
Andreas Franz Wilhelm Schimper was a botanist and phytogeographer who made major contributions in the fields of histology, ecology and plant geography.-Biography:...

 in 1883 that chloroplasts closely resemble cyanobacteria. All chloroplasts are thought to derive directly or indirectly from a single endosymbiotic event (in the Archaeplastida
The Archaeplastida are a major group of eukaryotes, comprising the red and green algae and the land plants, together with a small group called the glaucophytes. The plastids of all of these organisms are surrounded by two membranes, suggesting they developed directly from endosymbiotic...

), except for Paulinella
Paulinella is a genus of about nine species of freshwater amoeboids.Its most famous member is the photosynthetic P. chromatophora which has recently taken on a cyanobacterium as an endosymbiont...

, which has recently acquired a photosynthetic cyanobacterial endosymbiont which is not closely related to chloroplasts of other eukaryotes. In that they derive from an endosymbiotic event, chloroplasts are similar to mitochondria
In cell biology, a mitochondrion is a membrane-enclosed organelle found in most eukaryotic cells. These organelles range from 0.5 to 1.0 micrometers in diameter...

, but chloroplasts are found only in plant
Plants are living organisms belonging to the kingdom Plantae. Precise definitions of the kingdom vary, but as the term is used here, plants include familiar organisms such as trees, flowers, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. The group is also called green plants or...

s and protist
Protists are a diverse group of eukaryotic microorganisms. Historically, protists were treated as the kingdom Protista, which includes mostly unicellular organisms that do not fit into the other kingdoms, but this group is contested in modern taxonomy...

a. The chloroplast is surrounded by a double-layered composite membrane with an intermembrane space; further, it has reticulations, or many infoldings, filling the inner spaces. The chloroplast has its own DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

, which codes for redox proteins involved in electron transport in photosynthesis; this is termed the plastome
The plastome is the genetic material that is found in plastids in plant cells . It composes part of the entire genome of photosynthetic organisms....


In green plants, chloroplasts are surrounded by two lipid-bilayer membranes
Cell membrane
The cell membrane or plasma membrane is a biological membrane that separates the interior of all cells from the outside environment. The cell membrane is selectively permeable to ions and organic molecules and controls the movement of substances in and out of cells. It basically protects the cell...

. They are believed to correspond to the outer and inner membranes 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. Many of the missing genes are encoded in the nuclear genome of the host. The transfer of nuclear information has been estimated in tobacco
Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as a pesticide and, in the form of nicotine tartrate, used in some medicines...

 plants at one gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

 for every 16000 pollen grains.

In some algae (such as the heterokont
The heterokonts or stramenopiles are a major line of eukaryotes currently containing more than 100,000 known species. Most are algae, ranging from the giant multicellular kelp to the unicellular diatoms, which are a primary component of plankton...

s and other protists such as Euglenozoa
The Euglenozoa are a large group of flagellate protozoa. They include a variety of common free-living species, as well as a few important parasites, some of which infect humans. There are two main subgroups, the euglenids and kinetoplastids...

 and Cercozoa
The Cercozoa are a group of protists. They are sometimes described as a kingdom.-Characteristics:The group includes most amoeboids and flagellates that feed by means of filose pseudopods. These may be restricted to part of the cell surface, but there is never a true cytostome or mouth as found in...

), 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 endosymbiont
An endosymbiont is any organism that lives within the body or cells of another organism, i.e. forming an endosymbiosis...

s may have themselves been engulfed by still other eukaryotes, thus forming tertiary endosymbionts. In the alga Chlorella
Chlorella is a genus of single-celled green algae, belonging to the phylum Chlorophyta. It is spherical in shape, about 2 to 10 μm in diameter, and is without flagella. Chlorella contains the green photosynthetic pigments chlorophyll-a and -b in its chloroplast...

, there is only one chloroplast, which is bell-shaped.

In some groups of mixotrophic protist
Protists are a diverse group of eukaryotic microorganisms. Historically, protists were treated as the kingdom Protista, which includes mostly unicellular organisms that do not fit into the other kingdoms, but this group is contested in modern taxonomy...

s such as the dinoflagellate
The dinoflagellates are a large group of flagellate protists. Most are marine plankton, but they are common in fresh water habitats as well. Their populations are distributed depending on temperature, salinity, or depth...

s, chloroplasts are separated from a captured alga or diatom
Diatoms are a major group of algae, and are one of the most common types of phytoplankton. Most diatoms are unicellular, although they can exist as colonies in the shape of filaments or ribbons , fans , zigzags , or stellate colonies . Diatoms are producers within the food chain...

 and used temporarily. These klepto chloroplasts
Kleptoplasty or kleptoplastidy is a symbiotic phenomenon whereby plastids from algae are sequestered by host organisms. The alga is eaten normally and partially digested, leaving the plastid intact. The plastids are maintained within the host, temporarily retaining functional photosynthesis for use...

 may only have a lifetime of a few days and are then replaced.


Chloroplasts are observable as flat discs usually 2 to 10 micrometers in diameter and 1 micrometer thick. In land plants, they are, in general, 5 μm in diameter and 2.3 μm 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. A typical parenchyma
Parenchyma is a term used to describe a bulk of a substance. It is used in different ways in animals and in plants.The term is New Latin, f. Greek παρέγχυμα - parenkhuma, "visceral flesh", f. παρεγχεῖν - parenkhein, "to pour in" f. para-, "beside" + en-, "in" + khein, "to pour"...

 cell contains about 10 to 100 chloroplasts.
The material within the chloroplast is called the stroma, corresponding to the cytosol
The cytosol or intracellular fluid is the liquid found inside cells, that is separated into compartments by membranes. For example, the mitochondrial matrix separates the mitochondrion into compartments....

 of the original bacterium, and contains one or more molecules of small circular DNA. It also contains ribosome
A ribosome is a component of cells that assembles the twenty specific amino acid molecules to form the particular protein molecule determined by the nucleotide sequence of an RNA molecule....

s; however 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 thylakoid
A thylakoid is a membrane-bound compartment inside chloroplasts and cyanobacteria. They are the site of the light-dependent reactions of photosynthesis. Thylakoids consist of a thylakoid membrane surrounding a thylakoid lumen. Chloroplast thylakoids frequently form stacks of disks referred to as...

s, 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 flux
In the various subfields of physics, there exist two common usages of the term flux, both with rigorous mathematical frameworks.* In the study of transport phenomena , flux is defined as flow per unit area, where flow is the movement of some quantity per time...

es with biosynthesis
Biochemistry, sometimes called biological chemistry, is the study of chemical processes in living organisms, including, but not limited to, living matter. Biochemistry governs all living organisms and living processes...

 via the dissipation of a proton electrochemical gradient.

In the electron microscope, thylakoid membranes appear as alternating light-and-dark bands, each 0.01 μm thick. Embedded in the thylakoid membrane are antenna complexes, each of which consists of the light-absorbing pigments, including chlorophyll
Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in almost all plants, algae, and cyanobacteria. Its name is derived from the Greek words χλωρος, chloros and φύλλον, phyllon . Chlorophyll is an extremely important biomolecule, critical in photosynthesis, which allows plants to obtain energy from light...

 and carotenoids, as well as proteins that bind the pigments. 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.

Recent studies have shown that chloroplasts can be interconnected by tubular bridges called stromule
Stromules are microscopic structures found in plant cells. Stromules are highly dynamic structures extending from the surface of all plastid types, including proplastids, chloroplasts, etioplasts, leucoplasts, amyloplasts, and chromoplasts...

s, formed as extensions of their outer membranes. Chloroplasts appear to be able to exchange proteins via stromules, and thus function as a network.

Transplastomic plants

Recently, chloroplasts have caught attention by developers of genetically modified plant
Genetically modified plant
Genetically modified plants are plants whose DNA is modified using genetic engineering techniques. In most cases the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in this species...

s. In most flowering plants, chloroplasts are not inherited from the male parent, although in plants such as pines, chloroplasts are inherited from males. Where chloroplasts are inherited only from the female, transgene
A transgene is a gene or genetic material that has been transferred naturally or by any of a number of genetic engineering techniques from one organism to another....

s in these plastids cannot be disseminated by pollen
Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes . Pollen grains have a hard coat that protects the sperm cells during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the...

. 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
Biological containment
Biological containment describes measures aimed at preventing genetically modified organisms and their transgenes from spreading into the environment ....

 strategy is therefore suitable for establishing the coexistence of conventional and organic agriculture
Co-existence of genetically modified and conventional crops and derived food and feed
In the context of agriculture and food and feed production, co-existence means using cropping systems with and without genetically modified organisms in parallel. For co-existence to be assured, the separation and the identity of the respective food and feed products must be maintained at all...

. While the reliability of this mechanism has not yet been studied for all relevant crop species, recent results in tobacco plants are promising, showing a failed containment rate of transplastomic plants at 3 in 1,000,000.

See also

  • Chloroplast membrane
    Chloroplast membrane
    Chloroplasts contain several important membranes, vital for their function. Like mitochondria, chloroplasts have a double-membrane envelope, called the chloroplast envelope. Each membrane is a phospholipid bilayer, between 6 and 8 nm thick, and the two are separated by a gap of 10-20 nm,...

  • Inner membrane
    Inner membrane
    The inner membrane is the biological membrane of an organelle or Gram-negative bacteria that is within an outer membrane....

  • Outer membrane
    Outer membrane
    The bacterial outer membrane is found in Gram-negative bacteria. Its composition is distinct from that of the cytoplasmic membrane - among other things, the outer leaflet of the membrane includes a complex lipopolysaccharide whose lipid portion acts as an endotoxin - and it is linked to the cell's...

  • Calvin cycle
    Calvin cycle
    The Calvin cycle or Calvin–Benson-Bassham cycle or reductive pentose phosphate cycle or C3 cycle or CBB cycle is a series of biochemical redox reactions that take place in the stroma of chloroplasts in photosynthetic organisms...

  • Light-dependent reaction
    Light-dependent reactions
    The 'light-dependent reactions', or light reactions, are the first stage of photosynthesis, the process by which plants capture and store energy from sunlight. In this process, light energy is converted into chemical energy, in the form of the energy-carrying molecules ATP and NADPH...

  • Light-independent reactions
  • Mitochondria
  • Hydrogenosome
    A hydrogenosome is a membrane-enclosed organelle of some anaerobic ciliates, trichomonads and fungi. The hydrogenosomes of trichomonads produce molecular hydrogen, acetate, carbon dioxide and ATP by the combined actions of pyruvate:ferredoxin oxido-reductase, hydrogenase, acetate:succinate CoA...

  • CoRR Hypothesis
    CoRR Hypothesis
    The CoRR hypothesis states that the location of genetic information in cytoplasmic organelles permits regulation of its expression by the reduction-oxidation state of its gene products....

External links