Measuring the force production of the hormogonia of Mastigocladus laminosus

Biophys J. 2007 Jul 15;93(2):699-703. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.107.104067. Epub 2007 May 4.


The cyanobacterium Mastigocladus laminosus forms hormogonia, which glide slowly away from the parent colony by extruding slime out of nozzles. Using video microscopy, we observed hormogonia embedded in and moving through 1-4% agar solutions with an average velocity of 0.5 microm/s. Agar is non-Newtonian and is subject to shear-thinning so that its viscosity greatly increases at low shear rates. We measured the viscosity of these agar solutions at the very low shear rates appropriate for gliding hormogonia and found it to vary from 1 to 52 million centipoise. Then, by applying a Newtonian drag coefficient for a 100-microm-long, cigar-shaped hormogonium, we found that it produced a force of several million pN. A typical hormogonium has 10-100 thousand 9-nm-wide slime extrusion nozzles. Wolgemuth et al. have proposed hydration-driven swelling of the polyelectrolyte slime ejected from these nozzles as the force production mechanism, and our experiment found a large nozzle force that was consistent with this hypothesis. Average single nozzle force depended on viscosity, being large when the viscosity was high: 71 pN in 3% and 126 pN in 4% agar.

MeSH terms

  • Agar
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Cyanobacteria / physiology*
  • Cyanobacteria / ultrastructure*
  • Microscopy, Video
  • Movement
  • Viscosity


  • Agar