Bacterial periplasmic binding proteins (bPBPs) are specific for a wide variety of small molecule ligands. bPBPs undergo a large, ligand-mediated conformational change that can be linked to reporter functions to monitor ligand concentrations. This mechanism provides the basis of a general system for engineering families of reagentless biosensors that share a common physical signal transduction functionality and detect many different analytes. We demonstrate the facility of designing optical biosensors based on fluorophore conjugates using 8 environmentally sensitive fluorophores and 11 bPBPs specific for diverse ligands, including sugars, amino acids, anions, cations, and dipeptides. Construction of reagentless fluorescent biosensors relies on identification of sites that undergo a local conformational change in concert with the global, ligand-mediated hinge-bending motion. Construction of cysteine mutations at these locations then permits site-specific coupling of environmentally sensitive fluorophores that report ligand binding as changes in fluorescence intensity. For 10 of the bPBPs presented in this study, the three-dimensional receptor structure was used to predict the location of reporter sites. In one case, a bPBP sensor specific for glutamic and aspartic acid was designed starting from genome sequence information and illustrates the potential for discovering novel binding functions in the microbial genosphere using bioinformatics.