Chromoproteins produce a wide array of colors in nature. And, they enable us to genetically engineer cells and then use them for living artworks! But, can we make even more colors, and learn some basic biology in the process?

Explore the World of Colorful Proteins

What are chromoproteins? They’re a type of protein that absorbs visible light and produces color that can be viewed in ambient light.

Our inspiration comes from “Agar Art”, which uses chromoproteins (as well as fluorescent and luminescent proteins) to produce amazing artworks. We started with the beautiful colors available through the Yeast Art project (below left; Yeast Art Project). We can then use a variety of genetic engineering tools to produce a wide variety of color variation (below right; from In vitro DNA SCRaMbLE). As we work with chromoproteins and move them into new species, we not only make great tools for artwork, but we learn what is responsible for variations in pigment color and the biology of these genes and biological systems.

The Yeast Art palette
The Yeast Art palette
Scrambling the beta-carotene pathway leads to dramatic variations in colors

We’ve already engineered these great new colors!


The Chromoprotein project at BUGSS is part of the National Science Foundation-funded Build-a-Genome network. We’re using the tools of synthetic biology to introduce new proteins and biochemical pathways into bacterial and cells to expand our palette into great new colors!

build a genome logo