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Bactiridescence was based around the properties of reflectin, a squid protein with the highest refractive index of any known proteinaceous substance. In squid this protein forms complex platelets which act as Bragg reflectors to provide camouflage.


Project Goals

We aimed to express reflectin in E. coli and to investigate its optical properties in order to build the groundwork for the manipulation of living structural colour. We also looked at the over-expression of reflectin in E. coli, in order to obtain relatively pure samples of the protein for making thin films.

Much of our work (particularly the in vivo work) simply hadn't been tried before, so, while we had high hopes, we could not be sure as to what would happen.


In one short summer the 2011 Cambridge team has produced a set of BioBrick parts to allow future researchers to explore synthetic biology applications for structural colour.

In Vivo

Working with living cells we have;

In Vitro

A multilayer thin film

By engineering E. coli to overexpress reflectins we have;

  • Purified reflectin and documented best practice for high purity yields.
  • Made thin films which show structural colours.
  • Demonstrated the rapid colour changes possible with reflectin.
    • Videos of our thin films are available on youtube.


The Gibthon logo

We contributed to Gibthon, an open-source collection of web-based tools for construct design, fully compatible with both BioBrick standards and newer assembly techniques.

  • Greatly improved import and display of fragments (including support for
  • Added tools to allow management of uploaded parts.

Future work

By creating the first BioBrick parts for production of structural colour, we hope to facilitate further research. Although time did not allow us to explore the full potential of our project, we have some ideas for what could be done next.