Synthetic phytochelatin-related peptides are used as an organic coat on the surface of colloidal CdSe/ZnS semiconductor nanocrystals synthesized from hydrophobic coordinating trioctyl phosphine oxide (TOPO) solvents. The peptides are designed to bind to the nanocrystals via a C-terminal adhesive domain. This adhesive domain, composed of multiple repeats of cysteines pairs flanked by hydrophobic 3-cyclohexylalanines, is followed by a flexible hydrophilic linker domain to which various bio-affinity tags can be attached. This surface coating chemistry results in small, buffer soluble, monodisperse peptide-coated nanoparticles with high colloidal stability and ensemble photophysical properties similar to those of TOPO-coated nanocrystals. Various peptide coatings are used to modulate the nanocrystal surface properties and to bioactivate the nanoparticles. CdSe/ZnS nanocrystals coated with biotinylated peptides efficiently bind to streptavidin and are specifically targeted to GPI-anchored avidin-CD14 chimeric proteins expressed on the membranes of live HeLa cells. This peptide coating surface chemistry provides a novel approach for the production of biocompatible photoluminescent nanocrystal probes.