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Nature. 2005 Jun 30;435(7046):1271-4.

Escherichia coli swim on the right-hand side.

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Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, 12 Oxford Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


The motion of peritrichously flagellated bacteria close to surfaces is relevant to understanding the early stages of biofilm formation and of pathogenic infection. This motion differs from the random-walk trajectories of cells in free solution. Individual Escherichia coli cells swim in clockwise, circular trajectories near planar glass surfaces. On a semi-solid agar substrate, cells differentiate into an elongated, hyperflagellated phenotype and migrate cooperatively over the surface, a phenomenon called swarming. We have developed a technique for observing isolated E. coli swarmer cells moving on an agar substrate and confined in shallow, oxidized poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) microchannels. Here we show that cells in these microchannels preferentially 'drive on the right', swimming preferentially along the right wall of the microchannel (viewed from behind the moving cell, with the agar on the bottom). We propose that when cells are confined between two interfaces--one an agar gel and the second PDMS--they swim closer to the agar surface than to the PDMS surface (and for much longer periods of time), leading to the preferential movement on the right of the microchannel. Thus, the choice of materials guides the motion of cells in microchannels.

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