A new continuum model for suspensions of gyrotactic micro-organisms

J Fluid Mech. 1990 Mar;212:155-82. doi: 10.1017/s0022112090001914.


A new continuum model is formulated for dilute suspensions of swimming micro-organisms with asymmetric mass distributions. Account is taken of randomness in a cell's swimming direction, p, by postulating that the probability density function for p satisfies a Fokker-Planck equation analogous to that obtained for colloid suspensions in the presence of rotational Brownian motion. The deterministic torques on a cell, viscous and gravitational, are balanced by diffusion, represented by an isotropic rotary diffusivity Dr, which is unknown a priori, but presumably reflects stochastic influences on the cell's internal workings. When the Fokker-Planck equation is solved, macroscopic quantities such as the average cell velocity Vc, the particle diffusivity tensor D and the effective stress tensor sigma can be computed; Vc and D are required in the cell conservation equation, and sigma in the momentum equation. The Fokker-Planck equation contains two dimensionless parameters, lambda and epsilon; lambda is the ratio of the rotary diffusion time Dr-1 to the torque relaxation time B (balancing gravitational and viscous torques), while epsilon is a scale for the local vorticity or strain rate made dimensionless with B. In this paper we solve the Fokker-Planck equation exactly for epsilon = 0 (lambda arbitrary) and also obtain the first-order solution for small epsilon. Using experimental data on Vc and D obtained with the swimming alga, Chlamydomonas nivalis, in the absence of bulk flow, the epsilon = 0 results can be used to estimate the value of lambda for that species (lambda approximately 2.2; Dr approximately 0.13 s-1). The continuum model for small epsilon is then used to reanalyse the instability of a uniform suspension, previously investigated by Pedley, Hill & Kessler (1988). The only qualitatively different result is that there no longer seem to be circumstances in which disturbances with a non-zero vertical wavenumber are more unstable than purely horizontal disturbances. On the way, it is demonstrated that the only significant contribution to sigma, other than the basic Newtonian stress, is that derived from the stresslets associated with the cells' intrinsic swimming motions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Cell Movement*
  • Chlamydomonas / cytology*
  • Gravitation*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Rheology
  • Suspensions*
  • Swimming


  • Suspensions