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J Bacteriol. Feb 1987; 169(2): 514–518.
PMCID: PMC211807

Unidirectional, intermittent rotation of the flagellum of Rhodobacter sphaeroides.


The single flagellum of the photosynthetic bacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides was found to be medially located on the cell body. Observation of free-swimming bacteria, and bacteria tethered by their flagellar filaments, revealed that the flagellum could only rotate in the clockwise direction; switching of the direction of rotation was never observed. Flagellar rotation stopped periodically, typically several times a minute for up to several seconds each. Reorientation of swimming cells appeared to be the result of Brownian rotation during the stop periods. The flagellar filament displayed polymorphism; detached and nonrotating filaments were usually seen as large-amplitude helices of such short wavelength that they appeared as flat coils or circles, whereas the filaments on swimming cells showed a normal (small-amplitude, long-wavelength) helical form. With attached filaments, the transition from the normal to the coiled form occurred when the flagellar motor stopped rotating, proceeding from the distal end towards the cell body. It is possible that both the relaxation process and the smaller frictional resistance after relaxation may act to enhance the rate of reorientation of the cell. The transition from the coiled to the normal form occurred when the motor restarted, proceeding from the proximal end outwards, which might further contribute to the reorientation of the cell before it reaches a stable swimming geometry.

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Selected References

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