Pigments are not just for the eye, they could also be crucial for our lungs, new research seems to suggest.
Research by Associate Professor Barry Pogson and his team at The Australian National University node of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, based at The University of Western Australia, seems to underscore the links between plant pigments, the regulation of pigment production and a plants' energy harvesting machinery.
The research features in the August edition of Functional Plant Biology - an internationally-respected journal.
Associate Professor Pogson said, "One of the most important group of plant pigments - the carotenoids - are generally recognised for their contribution to flower and fruit colour, for example carrots and tomatoes.
"They absorb light at the blue end of the spectrum, so light reflected by them appears yellow to orangey/red. In most leafy plant tissue and vegetables, their colour is masked by the green of chlorophyll.
"But they are essential components of the green bits of plants, where photosynthesis traps energy from sunlight and converts CO2 from air to sugars. So carotenoids are essential for photosynthesis and thus life on earth."
He also said natural pigments were an essential part of our diet - our bodies cannot make them so we rely on plants to synthesise them for us.
When we eat plants, our bodies convert some carotenoids into vitamin A. One special carotenoid - lutein and its associate zeaxanthin - have been found in high concentrations in a part of the human eye called the macula. The eye disease, Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), is thought to have its origins in diets deficient in carotenoids.
He stressed that the research had wide-reaching implications for our understanding of atmospheric CO2 levels, climate change, diminishing oil supplies, alternative energy, human nutrition and even eye health.
"Plant energy and plant pigments have major roles to play in all these issues of concern," he said.