A Rhodobacter sphaeroides bchD (magnesium chelatase) mutant was studied to determine the properties of its photosystem in the absence of bacteriochlorophyll (BChl). Western blots of reaction center H, M, and L (RC H/M/L) proteins from mutant membranes showed levels of 12% RC H, 32% RC L, and 46% RC M relative to those of the wild type. Tricine-SDS-PAGE revealed 52% light-harvesting complex alpha chain and 14% beta chain proteins compared to those of the wild type. Pigment analysis of bchD cells showed the absence of BChl and bacteriopheophytin (BPhe), but zinc bacteriochlorophyll (Zn-BChl) was discovered. Zn-BChl binds to light-harvesting 1 (LH1) and 2 (LH2) complexes in place of BChl in bchD membranes, with a LH2:LH1 ratio resembling that of wild-type cells under BChl-limiting conditions. Furthermore, the RC from the bchD mutant contained Zn-BChl in the special pair and accessory BChl binding sites, as well as carotenoid and quinone, but BPhe was absent. Comparison of the bchD mutant RC absorption spectrum to that of Acidiphilium rubrum, which contains Zn-BChl in the RC, suggests the RC protein environment at L168 contributes to A. rubrum special pair absorption characteristics rather than solely Zn-BChl. We speculate that Zn-BChl is synthesized via the normal BChl biosynthetic pathway, but with ferrochelatase supplying zinc protoporphyrin IX for enzymatic steps following the nonfunctional magnesium chelatase. The absence of BPhe in bchD cells is likely related to Zn2+ stability in the chlorin macrocycle and consequently high resistance of Zn-BChl to pheophytinization (dechelation). Possible agents prevented from dechelating Zn-BChl include the RC itself, a hypothetical dechelatase enzyme, and spontaneous processes.