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Biophys J. 2005 Dec;89(6):3771-9. Epub 2005 Sep 8.

A fluid-dynamic interpretation of the asymmetric motion of singly flagellated bacteria swimming close to a boundary.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, Tottori University, Tottori 680-8552, Japan.


The singly flagellated bacterium, Vibrio alginolyticus, moves forward and backward by alternating the rotational direction of its flagellum. The bacterium has been observed retracing a previous path almost exactly and swimming in a zigzag pattern. In the presence of a boundary, however, the motion changes significantly, to something closer to a circular trajectory. Additionally, when the cell swims close to a wall, the forward and backward speeds differ noticeably. This study details a boundary element model for the motion of a bacterium swimming near a rigid boundary and the results of numerical analyses conducted using this model. The results reveal that bacterium motion is apparently influenced by pitch angle, i.e., the angle between the boundary and the swimming direction, and that forward motion is more stable than backward motion with respect to pitching of the bacterium. From these results, a set of diagrammatic representations have been created that explain the observed asymmetry in trajectory and speed between the forward and backward motions. For forward motion, a cell moving parallel to the boundary will maintain this trajectory. However, for backward motion, the resulting trajectory depends upon whether the bacterium is approaching or departing the boundary. Fluid-dynamic interactions between the flagellum and the boundary vary with cell orientation and cause peculiarities in the resulting trajectories.

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