Light transducing phycobiliproteins are encapsulated in optically transparent sol-gel matrices. Absorption and fluorescence spectroscopies are used to characterize the effect of the sol-gel encapsulation on the conformation and aggregation states of the three major phycobiliproteins present in phycobilisomes: phycoerythrin, phycocyanin, and allophycocyanin. It is found that the effects of sol-gel entrapment on the spectroscopic properties are significantly different for the three phycobiliproteins. The results indicate that phycoerythrin undergoes only minor change in its native structure when entrapped in sol-gel. However, significant changes in conformation and aggregation state occur when phycocyanin and allophycocyanin are entrapped in sol-gel matrices. A thin film of sol-gel encapsulated phycoerythrin is also coated on an optical fiber surface and strong fluorescence from the evanescent wave excitation is detected. The potential applications of sol-gel encapsulated phycobiliproteins in biosensors are discussed. © 1996 Kluwer Academic Publishers.