FEB 23, 2018 05:49 PM PST

Using Bacteria to 'Grow' Vibrantly Colored Paints

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Nature produces some amazing colors, like the pigments on the feathers of a bird or the wings of a butterfly, and now scientists have deciphered the genetic code underlying those colors. Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers at the University of Cambridge and Dutch company Hoekmine BV have performed the first genetic assessment of structural color and opened up new avenues in the study of organisms that are structurally pigmented.

 Peacock feathers have structural color, which is not produced by a pigment. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons/AlexDuarte

There are some brightly colored bacteria, and the coloration of some of them can be altered by tinkering with their genetics, the scientists found. It may now be possible to grow these modified bacteria on an industrial scale, to make a variety of things like non-toxic and biodegradable paints. Instead of manufacturing them, they could be grown.

"It is crucial to map the genes responsible for the structural coloration for further understanding of how nanostructures are engineered in nature," explained first author Villads Egede Johansen, from Cambridge's Department of Chemistry. "This is the first systematic study of the genes underpinning structural colours—not only in bacteria but in any living system."

One kind of bacteria that is pigmented is flavobacterium. It grows in tight colonies of vibrant metallic colors, produced by their structure instead of pigment. Scientists still aren’t sure how these structures are made by nature, but they reflect light at specific wavelengths, emitting color.

To understand more about how the genetics underlying the anatomy and optical characteristics of regular and mutated bacteria, the researchers compared the two. 

Next, they genetically altered the ability of bacteria to migrate or how it was shaped, the geometry of the colonies they formed also changed. Because of that shift in geometry, their coloration changed as well. They could make the color duller or make it disappear, or change from blue to red.

"We mapped several genes with previously unknown functions and we correlated them to the colonies' self-organizational capacity and their coloration," noted senior author Dr. Colin Ingham, CEO of Hoekmine BV.

"From an applied perspective, this bacterial system allows us to achieve tune-able living photonic structures that can be reproduced in abundance, avoiding traditional nanofabrication methods," said co-senior author Dr. Silvia Vignolini of the Department of Chemistry at Cambridge. "We see a potential in the use of such bacterial colonies as photonic pigments that can be readily optimized for changing coloration under external stimuli and that can interface with other living tissues, thereby adapting to variable environments. The future is open for biodegradable paints on our cars and walls—simply by growing exactly the color and appearance we want!"

Dr. Vignolini is featured in the panel discussion above; the talk is about how mature inspires the creation of better materials.

 

Sources: Phys.org via University of Cambridge, PNAS

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUL 04, 2018
Drug Discovery
JUL 04, 2018
Increased Dose of Drug 'Rifampin' Effective in Eliminating Tuberculosis Bacterium
According to a randomized controlled trial, a TB drug by the name ‘Rifampin’ was seen to effectively kill TB bacteria in sputum cultures when a...
JUL 19, 2018
Microbiology
JUL 19, 2018
Mom's Microbiome has a Big Impact on Kid's Autism Risk
For many years, scientists have been trying to learn more about the causes of autism....
JUL 23, 2018
Microbiology
JUL 23, 2018
Anglerfish Alert Researchers to a Third Type of Symbiosis
The light from inside the anglerfish bulb is made by bioluminescent bacteria, a symbiotic relationship we know little about....
AUG 13, 2018
Immunology
AUG 13, 2018
Silent Viruses Impact Microbe and Immune Cell Populations
Subclinical infections may alter the immune system and gut microbiota in the human host impacting how we respond to environmental stimuli like vaccines....
AUG 31, 2018
Microbiology
AUG 31, 2018
An Ebola Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo
In August, the World Health Organization declared that an Ebola outbreak was happening in the DRC....
SEP 27, 2018
Microbiology
SEP 27, 2018
How Bacterial Cells Take out the Trash
Some types of bacteria create tiny versions of themselves that cannot reproduce - miniature spheres lacking chromosomal DNA that are known as minicells....
Loading Comments...