For photosynthesis, phototrophic organisms necessarily synthesize not only chlorophylls but also carotenoids. Many kinds of carotenoids are found in algae and, recently, taxonomic studies of algae have been developed. In this review, the relationship between the distribution of carotenoids and the phylogeny of oxygenic phototrophs in sea and fresh water, including cyanobacteria, red algae, brown algae and green algae, is summarized. These phototrophs contain division- or class-specific carotenoids, such as fucoxanthin, peridinin and siphonaxanthin. The distribution of α-carotene and its derivatives, such as lutein, loroxanthin and siphonaxanthin, are limited to divisions of Rhodophyta (macrophytic type), Cryptophyta, Euglenophyta, Chlorarachniophyta and Chlorophyta. In addition, carotenogenesis pathways are discussed based on the chemical structures of carotenoids and known characteristics of carotenogenesis enzymes in other organisms; genes and enzymes for carotenogenesis in algae are not yet known. Most carotenoids bind to membrane-bound pigment-protein complexes, such as reaction center, light-harvesting and cytochrome b(6)f complexes. Water-soluble peridinin-chlorophyll a-protein (PCP) and orange carotenoid protein (OCP) are also established. Some functions of carotenoids in photosynthesis are also briefly summarized.