In vitro gliding assays, in which microtubules are observed to glide over surfaces coated with motor proteins, are important tools for studying the biophysics of motility. Gliding assays with axonemal dyneins have the unusual feature that the microtubules exhibit large variations in gliding speed despite measures taken to eliminate unsteadiness. Because axonemal dynein gliding assays are usually done using heterologous proteins, i.e., dynein and tubulin from different organisms, we asked whether the source of tubulin could underlie the unsteadiness. By comparing gliding assays with microtubules polymerized from Chlamydomonas axonemal tubulin with those from porcine brain tubulin, we found that the unsteadiness is present despite matching the source of tubulin to the source of dynein. We developed a novel, to our knowledge, displacement-weighted velocity analysis to quantify both the velocity and the unsteadiness of gliding assays systematically and without introducing bias toward low motility. We found that the quantified unsteadiness is independent of tubulin source. In addition, we found that the short Chlamydomonas microtubules translocate significantly faster than their porcine counterparts. By modeling the effect of length on velocity, we propose that the observed effect may be due to a higher rate of binding of Chlamydomonas axonemal dynein to Chlamydomonas microtubules than to porcine microtubules.
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