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Complex photonic response reveals three-dimensional self-organization of structural coloured bacterial colonies.

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van de Kerkhof, Gea T 
Catón, Laura 
Ogawa, Yu 


Vivid colours found in living organisms are often the result of scattering from hierarchical nanostructures, where the interplay between order and disorder in their packing defines visual appearance. In the case of Flavobacterium IR1, the complex arrangement of the cells in polycrystalline three-dimensional lattices is found to be a distinctive fingerprint of colony organization. By combining analytical analysis of the angle-resolved scattering response of in vivo bacterial colonies with numerical modelling, we show that we can assess the inter-cell distance and cell diameter with a resolution below 10 nm, far better than what can be achieved with conventional electron microscopy, suffering from preparation artefacts. Retrieving the role of disorder at different length scales from the salient features in the scattering response enables a precise understanding of the structural organization of the bacteria.



bacterial colonies, living optical material, photonic crystals, structural colour, Bacteria, Nanostructures

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J R Soc Interface

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The Royal Society


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Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/K014617/1)
European Research Council (639088)
European Commission Horizon 2020 (H2020) Marie Sk?odowska-Curie actions (701455)
European Commission Horizon 2020 (H2020) Marie Sk?odowska-Curie actions (722842)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (2110570)
This study was financially supported by BBSRC David Phillips fellowship (BB/K014617/1), the European Research Council (ERC-2014-STG H2020 639088), the European Commission (Marie Curie Fellowship LODIS, 701455), EU’sHorizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 722842 (ITN Plant-inspired Materials and Surfaces–PlaMatSu) and the Swiss National Science Foundation under project P2ZHP2_183998 and Ambizione program grant 168223.
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