This newly published study is the first to investigate the genetics of structural color. Although researchers already knew that the structural color of a given organism is rooted in its DNA, the study sought to identify which exact genes are responsible for coloration.
The model organisms used for the study were colonies of flavobacterium, a rod-shaped bacteria found in soil and freshwater; the colonies were naturally a rich, metallic green hue. By altering the genetic makeup of the flavobacterium, the scientists found they could also change the color of the bacteria. Not only could they produce any color of the rainbow, they could control the intensity of each shade—or even eliminate color altogether.
These lab-produced colors “are really metallic, similar to the color you see in peacock feathers,” said chemist Silvia Vignolini, who worked on the study with Villads Egede Johansen at the University of Cambridge. “They change slightly when you look at different angles.”
Given more funding, the scientists will continue to explore the genetics of structural color, as well as the potential to harvest flavobacterium, which can be grown in only 24 hours.