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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Apr;78(7):2092-9. doi: 10.1128/AEM.07339-11. Epub 2012 Jan 20.

Iridescence of a marine bacterium and classification of prokaryotic structural colors.

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  • 1UMR 7266 CNRS-ULR LIENSs, UFR Sciences, Université de La Rochelle, La Rochelle, France.


Iridescence is a property of structural color that is occasionally encountered in higher eukaryotes but that has been poorly documented in the prokaryotic kingdom. In the present work, we describe a marine bacterium, identified as Cellulophaga lytica, isolated from the surface of an anemone, that exhibits bright green iridescent colonies under direct epi-illumination. This phenomenon has not previously been investigated in detail. In this study, color changes of C. lytica colonies were observed at various angles of direct illumination or observation. Its iridescent green appearance was dominant on various growth media. Red and violet colors were also discerned on colony edges. Remarkable C. lytica bacterial iridescence was revealed and characterized using high-resolution optical spectrometry. In addition to this, by culturing other bacterial strains to which various forms of faintly iridescent traits have previously been attributed, we identify four principal appearance characteristics of structural color in prokaryotes. A new general classification of bacterial iridescence is therefore proposed in this study. Furthermore, a specific separate class is described for iridescent C. lytica strains because they exhibit what is so far a unique intense glitter-like iridescence in reflection. C. lytica is the first prokaryote discovered to produce the same sort of intense iridescence under direct illumination as that associated with higher eukaryotes, like some insects and birds. Due to the nature of bacterial biology, cultivation, and ubiquity, this discovery may be of significant interest for both ecological and nanoscience endeavors.

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