The hydrodynamics of a run-and-tumble bacterium propelled by polymorphic helical flagella

Biophys J. 2010 Jan 6;98(1):12-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2009.09.044.


To study the swimming of a peritrichous bacterium such as Escherichia coli, which is able to change its swimming direction actively, we simulate the "run-and-tumble" motion by using a bead-spring model to account for: 1), the hydrodynamic and the mechanical interactions among the cell body and multiple flagella; 2), the reversal of the rotation of a flagellum in a tumble; and 3), the associated polymorphic transformations of the flagellum. Because a flexible hook connects the cell body and each flagellum, the flagella can take independent orientations with respect to the cell body. This simulation reproduces the experimentally observed behaviors of E. coli, namely, a three-dimensional random-walk trajectory in run-and-tumble motion and steady clockwise swimming near a wall. We show that the polymorphic transformation of a flagellum in a tumble facilitates the reorientation of the cell, and that the time-averaged flow-field near a cell in a run has double-layered helical streamlines, with a time-dependent flow magnitude large enough to affect the transport of surrounding chemoattractants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Escherichia coli / physiology*
  • Flagella / physiology*
  • Microfluidics / methods*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Movement / physiology*