Phytobilins are linear tetrapyrrole precursors of the light-harvesting prosthetic groups of the phytochrome photoreceptors of plants and the phycobiliprotein photosynthetic antennae of cyanobacteria, red algae, and cryptomonads. Previous biochemical studies have established that phytobilins are synthesized from heme via the intermediacy of biliverdin IX alpha (BV), which is reduced subsequently by ferredoxin-dependent bilin reductases with different double-bond specificities. By exploiting the sequence of phytochromobilin synthase (HY2) of Arabidopsis, an enzyme that catalyzes the ferredoxin-dependent conversion of BV to the phytochrome chromophore precursor phytochromobilin, genes encoding putative bilin reductases were identified in the genomes of various cyanobacteria, oxyphotobacteria, and plants. Phylogenetic analyses resolved four classes of HY2-related genes, one of which encodes red chlorophyll catabolite reductases, which are bilin reductases involved in chlorophyll catabolism in plants. To test the catalytic activities of these putative enzymes, representative HY2-related genes from each class were amplified by the polymerase chain reaction and expressed in Escherichia coli. Using a coupled apophytochrome assembly assay and HPLC analysis, we examined the ability of the recombinant proteins to catalyze the ferredoxin-dependent reduction of BV to phytobilins. These investigations defined three new classes of bilin reductases with distinct substrate/product specificities that are involved in the biosynthesis of the phycobiliprotein chromophore precursors phycoerythrobilin and phycocyanobilin. Implications of these results are discussed with regard to the pathways of phytobilin biosynthesis and their evolution.