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J Bacteriol. 1987 Jul;169(7):3146-50.

Rhizobium meliloti swims by unidirectional, intermittent rotation of right-handed flagellar helices.


The 5 to 10 peritrichously inserted complex flagella of Rhizobium meliloti MVII-1 were found to form right-handed flagellar bundles. Bacteria swam at speeds up to 60 microns/s, their random three-dimensional walk consisting of straight runs and quick directional changes (turns) without the vigorous angular motion (tumbling) seen in swimming Escherichia coli cells. Observations of R. meliloti cells tethered by a single flagellar filament revealed that flagellar rotation was exclusively clockwise, interrupted by very brief stops (shorter than 0.1 s), typically every 1 to 2 s. Swimming bacteria responded to chemotactic stimuli by extending their runs, and tethered bacteria responded by prolonged intervals of clockwise rotation. Moreover, the motility tracks of a generally nonchemotactic ("smooth") mutant consisted of long runs without sharp turns, and tethered mutant cells showed continuous clockwise rotation without detectable stops. These observations suggested that the runs of swimming cells correspond to clockwise flagellar rotation, and the turns correspond to the brief rotation stops. We propose that single rotating flagella (depending on their insertion point on the rod-shaped bacterial surface) can reorient a swimming cell whenever the majority of flagellar motors stop.

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