What a Colorful World Lab

Teacher Considerations

What a Colorful World activity

View activity

Quick Guide Colorful World

View Lab Quick Guide

Colorful World Poster

View Poster

In this lab, two closely related bacterial cell types are transformed with two color-generating plasmids. This content is relevant to genetics and inheritance lessons, molecular biology, and DNA expression units. Sterile technique and microbial culturing are emphasized in this streamlined and effective alternative to more common transformation protocols.The engineering concept of "chassis selection" gives this lab a context beyond a simple exploration of the transformation technique. Because the pigments that are generated by the plasmids are visible to the naked eye, it's easy to discern if the expression differs between the two chassis, and the data can be analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Students can design further experiments to understand what differences between chassis that might explain their data.

Download Colorful World poster

Download Colorful World Quick Guide for the lab

Download Chapter 9: Colorful World, from the BioBuilder Textbook

Download Teacher's Lab Manual (color)

Alignment to Standards

Download BioBuilder's alignment to the following teaching standards:

Sample Unit Plans

Download Skeletal Unit Plan for Synthetic biology and Colorful World Lab

Some helpful background content and skills


  • DNA Basics: what it is and how it works
  • Gene Expression: Transcription, Translation, Operons
  • Recombinant DNA: Restriction enzymes, cloning, selection with antibiotic resistance


  • Pipetting
  • Measuring cell density with a spectrophotometer
  • Basic microbiology skills: Culturing bacteria, Aseptic technique, Antibiotic resistance, Population dynamics
Some lab materials to have on hand
  • HARDWARE: Some basic biology laboratory equipment such as glassware, pipets, a water bath or heat block to heat samples, an icebucket or styrofoam cup to cool samples, 4C fridge and ice-cold freezer (ideally to -20C) to store samples, a stir plate to mix samples, and an incubator to grow samples (though room temperature can work too). Some additional experiments might need a chemical hood, electrophoresis chambers, spectrophotometer, or a PCR machine.
  • CONSUMABLES: Some basic consumable laboratory equipment such as pipet tips, plastic tubes, growth media, petri dishes, toothpicks, spreaders, sterile loops, bleach or the like for decontamination and disposal of bioreagents. Some additional experiments might need additional consumables such as gel running buffers, loading buffers, stains to visualize DNA or proteins, cuvettes, PCR master mix, or an autoclave for sterilizing reagents.

BioBuilder Classroom

Here are some activity specific materials you can use in addition to the more general resources you'll find on the "Teacher Resources" page.


Download Chapter 9: Colorful World, from the BioBuilder Textbook

Download Teacher's Lab Manual (color)

Download Teacher's Lab Manual (B&W)


Download Intro to SynBio video lesson

Download Chassis video lesson


Intro to SynBio Chassis


Colorful World Poster

Download Poster

Quick Guide Colorful World

Download Quick Guide

What a Colorful World comic strip

Download comic strip

BioBuilder Lab

Lab Materials

Download Student's Lab Manual (color)

Download Student's Lab Manual (B&W)

Download Colorful World Quick Guide for the lab

Download Reagents List (Appendix) from the BioBuilder Textbook

Download packing list for the Colorful World lab

Lab Videos

Streaking Cells Patching Cells

Plating Cells Run-through


Download lab intro_v1

Download lab intro_v2

Other Resources

Download workflow for the Colorful World lab

Link to sequence files for pPRL and pGRN plasmids

Analysis and Feedback

Lab Follow-ups

We generally observe strain 4-1 produces large, light green colonies and dark purple colonies, while strain 4-2 usually produces dark, small green colonies and no purple colonies.

We generally observe transformation efficiencies around 1*10^3 colonies/microgram of DNA. However, variations in the protocol, such as incubation at room temperature, may produce different results.

To achieve high transformation efficiency and distinct color differences, the students must be precise when conducting the transformation protocol. For instance, a water bath in excess of 42°C or cells left in the bath for more than 90 seconds may damage the cells and adversely affect the transformation efficiency.

As a control for this experiment, some teachers like to plate a "no DNA" control on an LB petri dishes (you'd expect a lawn of cells). Some like to plate the "+DNA" samples on LB also, in which case you'd see a lawn but ~none in that lawn will be colorful since the frequency of transformation is so low.

Submit your Data


When the students have finished their experiments, ask them to upload their data to the BioBuilder site to see how their measurements compare to what other BioBuilders around the country have seen. Email BioBuilder for the passcode to enter the data sharing portal.

Assessment Rubrics

Download sample rubrics to modify and use:

Lab Report Score Sheet for Colorful World

Lab Report Rubric for Colorful World