Chlorophyll (Chl) biosynthesis and degradation are the only biochemical processes on Earth that can be directly observed from satellites or other planets. The bulk of the Chls is found in the light-harvesting antenna complexes of photosynthetic organisms. Surprisingly little is known about the biosynthesis of Chl b, which is the second most abundant Chl pigment after Chl a. We describe here the expression and properties of the chlorophyllide a oxygenase gene (CAO) from Arabidopsis thaliana, which is apparently the key enzyme in Chl b biosynthesis. The recombinant enzyme produced in Escherichia coli catalyses an unusual two-step oxygenase reaction that is the 'missing link' in the chlorophyll cycle of higher plants.