Finger Painting With Bacteria

February 22 2018 | By Casey Lesser for Artsy
The Future of Paint? Shimmering Bacteria in Vibrant Hues

(Above: Flavobacteria in a petri dish. Courtesy of the University of Cambridge and Hoekmine BV.)

What if you could paint with the vivid, iridescent hues of a peacock’s feather or a butterfly’s wing? New research, conducted by chemists at the University of Cambridge and biotechnology company Hoekmine BV, suggests that could soon be a reality.

In nature, color occurs in two ways: either through pigmentation, where color appears the same from every angle, or structural color, where color changes according to interactions with light. A wide range of living organisms—including plants, insects, and birds—possesses structural color, an evolutionary development that facilitates survival skills such as camouflage, photosynthesis, and mating.

British scientists Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton were the first to identify structural coloration in the 17th and early-18th centuries. But humans have been interested in the subject since the time of ancient Rome—in his 1st-century-B.C. poem De Rerum Natura, Lucretius observes how the color of a peacock’s tail changes depending on the light.

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