Carotenoid cleavage products (apocarotenoids) are widespread in living organisms and exert key biological functions. In animals, retinoids function as vitamins, visual pigments and signalling molecules. In plants, apocarotenoids play roles as hormones, pigments, flavours, aromas and defence compounds. The first step in their biosynthesis is the oxidative cleavage of a carotenoid catalysed by a non-heme iron oxygenase. A novel family of enzymes, which can cleave different carotenoids at different positions, has been characterized.