Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) etioplasts were isolated, and the pigments were extracted with acetone. The extract was analyzed by HPLC. Only protochlorophyllide a and no protochlorophyllide b was detected (limit of detection < 1% of protochlorophyllide a). Protochlorophyllide b was synthesized starting from chlorophyll b and incubated with etioplast membranes and NADPH. In the light, photoconversion to chlorophyllide b was observed, apparently catalyzed by NADPH :protochlorophyllide oxidoreductase. In darkness, reduction of the analogue zinc protopheophorbide b to zinc 7-hydroxy-protopheophorbide a was observed, apparently catalyzed by chlorophyll b reductase. We conclude that protochlorophyllide b does not occur in detectable amounts in etioplasts, and even traces of it as the free pigment are metabolically unstable. Thus the direct experimental evidence contradicts the idea by Reinbothe et al. (Nature 397 (1999) 80-84) of a protochlorophyllide b-containing light-harvesting complex in barley etioplasts.