Biliproteins and bilipeptides subjected to discontinuous sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis in the presence of zinc acetate form a complex which fluoresces an orange color when viewed under ultraviolet light. The complex between the bilin chromophore and the zinc ion fluoresces at wavelengths which can be selectively visualized in gels by using a red filter. For the biliproteins phytochrome and C-phycocyanin the minimum detectable quantities are 100 and 50 ng, respectively. This is comparable to the sensitivity of Coomassie blue staining. The technique has been used for selective detection of phytochrome in plant extracts and to distinguish chromophore-bearing peptides from those not containing chromophore in proteolytic digests of phytochrome.