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Cytometry. 1991;12(6):492-6.

Compliance of bacterial polyhooks measured with optical tweezers.

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Rowland Institute for Science, Cambridge Massachusetts 02142.


In earlier work, a single-beam gradient force optical trap ("optical tweezers") was used to measure the torsional compliance of flagella in wild-type cells of Escherichia coli that had been tethered to glass by a single flagellum. This compliance was nonlinear, exhibiting a torsionally soft phase up to 180 degrees, followed by a torsionally rigid phase for larger angles. Values for the torsional spring constant in the soft phase were substantially less than estimates based on the rigidity determined for isolated flagellar filaments. It was suggested that the soft phase might correspond to wind-up of the flagellar hook, and the rigid phase to wind-up of the stiffer filament. Here, we have measured the torsional compliance of flagella on cells of an E. coli strain that produces abnormally long hooks but no filaments. The small-angle compliance of these cells, as determined from the elastic rebound of the cell body after wind-up and release, was found to be the same as for wild-type cells. This confirms that the small-angle compliance of wild-type cells is dominated by the response of the hook. Hook flexibility is likely to play a useful role in stabilizing the flagellar bundle.

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