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Cell. 1983 Jan;32(1):109-17.

Asynchronous switching of flagellar motors on a single bacterial cell.


Salmonella possesses several flagella, each capable of counterclockwise and clockwise rotation. Counterclockwise rotation produces swimming, clockwise rotation produces tumbling. Switching between senses occurs stochastically. The rotational sense of individual flagella on a single cell could be monitored under special conditions (partially de-energized cells of cheC and cheZ mutants). Switching was totally asynchronous, indicating that the stochastic process operates at the level of the individual organelle. Coordinated rotation in the flagellar bundle during swimming may therefore derive simply from a high counterclockwise probability enhanced by mechanical interactions, and not from a synchronizing switch mechanism. Different flagella on a given cell had different switching probabilities, on a time scale (greater than 2 min) spanning many switching events. This heterogeneity may reflect permanent structural differences, or slow fluctuations in some regulatory process.

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