How Does Chlorophyll Disappear?


The appearance of the green plant pigments in spring and their disappearance in the autumnal foliage of deciduous trees and in ripening fruit is probably one of the most colourful and fascinating natural phenomena on earth, observable even from outer space. Despite its ecological importance, the controlled degradation process remained enigmatic until about twenty years ago.


Based on world’s leading chemical contributions to the subject of chlorophyll degradation of the Kräutler group at the University of Innsbruck, and this group’s broad chemical and technical know-how, interested pupils will have the opportunity to contribute to recent and ongoing research in this area. In collaboration with teachers and scientists they will be encouraged to put their own creativity into practice.


We plan to observe the colours of senescent leaves as well as ripening fruit and investigate what’s behind all this. Chlorophyll breakdown is a part of a recycling strategy of higher plants to recover essential minerals (such as that of nitrogen). Therefore the phototoxic chlorophyll has to be transformed into colourless catabolites, which were considered to be a waste product. However, our recent findings on apples, pears and bananas revealed an unexpected diversity of chlorophyll breakdown and led to the question: Do chlorophyll catabolites have a biological function?


This project aims to provide high school students an exciting approach into science. Together with our two school partners, the Bundesrealgymnasium Adolf-Pichler-Platz (APP) and the Katholisches Oberstufenrealgymnasium Kettenbrücke (KORG), we offer around 230 pupils a closer contact to state-of-the-art research at the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the University of Innsbruck. The collaboration between university and school will be implemented in three modules of increasing difficulty. The students will be involved according to their personal skills.


 The Institute of Botany at the University of Innsbruck will be our competent partner for plant selection and identification at Innsbruck’s botanical gardens.

High school students are in search of enigmatic traces of the green pigment chlorophyll, which seems to disappear without a trace during leaf senescence and fruit ripening.

Project director

Dr. Thomas Müller, Institute of Organic Chemistry, University of Innsbruck

Scientific partner

Institute of Botany, University of Innsbruck

Participating Schools

BRG Adolf-Pichler-Platz, Innsbruck

Katholisches Ober-stufenrealgymnasium Kettenbrücke, Innsbruck


01. September 2009 – 31. Oktober 2011

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