Simultaneous measurement of bacterial flagellar rotation rate and swimming speed

Biophys J. 1995 Nov;69(5):2154-62. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(95)80089-5.


Swimming speeds and flagellar rotation rates of individual free-swimming Vibrio alginolyticus cells were measured simultaneously by laser dark-field microscopy at 25, 30, and 35 degrees C. A roughly linear relation between swimming speed and flagellar rotation rate was observed. The ratio of swimming speed to flagellar rotation rate was 0.113 microns, which indicated that a cell progressed by 7% of pitch of flagellar helix during one flagellar rotation. At each temperature, however, swimming speed had a tendency to saturate at high flagellar rotation rate. That is, the cell with a faster-rotating flagellum did not always swim faster. To analyze the bacterial motion, we proposed a model in which the torque characteristics of the flagellar motor were considered. The model could be analytically solved, and it qualitatively explained the experimental results. The discrepancy between the experimental and the calculated ratios of swimming speed to flagellar rotation rate was about 20%. The apparent saturation in swimming speed was considered to be caused by shorter flagella that rotated faster but produced less propelling force.

MeSH terms

  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Flagella / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Movement / physiology
  • Rotation
  • Vibrio / physiology*