We show that the rod-shaped Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) can be coated with the wide band gap semiconductor zinc oxide by electroless deposition under mild reaction conditions. The process involves pretreatment with aqueous Pd(II), followed by nucleation of ZnO, directed to palladium centers formed on the surface of TMV. The mechanism is based on the local pH change due to the reduction of nitrate by dimethylamine borane at the palladium. Morphology and chemical composition have been analyzed by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and by energy filtering TEM, respectively. The optical properties were elucidated by cathodoluminescence, which showed the desired near-band edge emission. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.