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Natural photonic crystals are responsible for strong reflectance at selective wavelengths in different natural systems. We demonstrate that intracellular opal-like photonic crystals formed from lipids within photosynthetic cells produce vivid structural color in the alga Cystoseira tamariscifolia. The reflectance of the opaline vesicles is dynamically responsive to environmental illumination. The structural color is present in low light–adapted samples, whereas higher light levels produce a slow disappearance of the structural color such that it eventually vanishes completely. Once returned to low-light conditions, the color re-emerges. Our results suggest that these complex intracellular natural photonic crystals are responsive to environmental conditions, changing their packing structure reversibly, and have the potential to manipulate light for roles beyond visual signaling.
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