Fu, Henry C.
Powers, Thomas R.
Date of Issue2012
School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
The motility of organisms is often directed in response to environmental stimuli. Rheotaxis is the directed movement resulting from fluid velocity gradients, long studied in fish, aquatic invertebrates, and spermatozoa. Using carefully controlled microfluidic flows, we show that rheotaxis also occurs in bacteria. Excellent quantitative agreement between experiments with Bacillus subtilis and a mathematical model reveals that bacterial rheotaxis is a purely physical phenomenon, in contrast to fish rheotaxis but in the same way as sperm rheotaxis. This previously unrecognized bacterial taxis results from a subtle interplay between velocity gradients and the helical shape of flagella, which together generate a torque that alters a bacterium's swimming direction. Because this torque is independent of the presence of a nearby surface, bacterial rheotaxis is not limited to the immediate neighborhood of liquid–solid interfaces, but also takes place in the bulk fluid. We predict that rheotaxis occurs in a wide range of bacterial habitats, from the natural environment to the human body, and can interfere with chemotaxis, suggesting that the fitness benefit conferred by bacterial motility may be sharply reduced in some hydrodynamic conditions.
Proceedings of the national academy of sciences
© 2012 National Academy of Sciences. This paper was published in Proceedings of the national academy of sciences and is made available as an electronic reprint (preprint) with permission of National Academy of Sciences. The paper can be found at the following official DOI: [http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1120955109]. One print or electronic copy may be made for personal use only. Systematic or multiple reproduction, distribution to multiple locations via electronic or other means, duplication of any material in this paper for a fee or for commercial purposes, or modification of the content of the paper is prohibited and is subject to penalties under law.