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Biophys J. 2006 Aug 1;91(3):1098-107. Epub 2006 May 19.

Quantifying the magnetic advantage in magnetotaxis.

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  • 1Chemistry Division, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, District of Columbia 20375, USA.


Magnetotactic bacteria are characterized by the production of magnetosomes, nanoscale particles of lipid bilayer encapsulated magnetite, that act to orient the bacteria in magnetic fields. These magnetosomes allow magneto-aerotaxis, which is the motion of the bacteria along a magnetic field and toward preferred concentrations of oxygen. Magneto-aerotaxis has been shown to direct the motion of these bacteria downward toward sediments and microaerobic environments favorable for growth. Herein, we compare the magneto-aerotaxis of wild-type, magnetic Magnetospirillum magneticum AMB-1 with a nonmagnetic mutant we have engineered. Using an applied magnetic field and an advancing oxygen gradient, we have quantified the magnetic advantage in magneto-aerotaxis as a more rapid migration to preferred oxygen levels. Magnetic, wild-type cells swimming in an applied magnetic field more quickly migrate away from the advancing oxygen than either wild-type cells in a zero field or the nonmagnetic cells in any field. We find that the responses of the magnetic and mutant strains are well described by a relatively simple analytical model, an analysis of which indicates that the key benefit of magnetotaxis is an enhancement of a bacterium's ability to detect oxygen, not an increase in its average speed moving away from high oxygen concentrations.

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