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Adv Microb Physiol. 1999;41:291-337.

The bacterial flagella motor.

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Randall Institute, King's College London, UK.


The bacterial flagellum is probably the most complex organelle found in bacteria. Although the ribosome may be made of slightly more subunits, the bacterial flagellum is a more organized and complex structure. The limited number of flagella must be targeted to the correct place on the cell membrane and a structure with cytoplasmic, cytoplasmic membrane, outer membrane and extracellular components must be assembled. The process of controlled transcription and assembly is still not fully understood. Once assembled, the motor complex in the cytoplasmic membrane rotates, driven by the transmembrane ion gradient, at speeds that can reach many 100 Hz, driving the bacterial cell at several body lengths a second. This coupling of an electrochemical gradient to mechanical rotational work is another fascinating feature of the bacterial motor. A significant percentage of a bacterium's energy may be used in synthesizing the complex structure of the flagellum and driving its rotation. Although patterns of swimming may be random in uniform environments, in the natural environment, where cells are confronted with gradients of metabolites and toxins, motility is used to move bacteria towards their optimum environment for growth and survival. A sensory system therefore controls the switching frequency of the rotating flagellum. This review deals primarily with the structure and operation of the bacterial flagellum. There has been a great deal of research in this area over the past 20 years and only some of this has been included. We apologize in advance if certain areas are covered rather thinly, but hope that interested readers will look at the excellent detailed reviews on those areas cited at those points.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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