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Biophys J. 1993 Nov;65(5):2201-16.

Torque generated by the flagellar motor of Escherichia coli.

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Rowland Institute for Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138-2020.


Cells of the bacterium Escherichia coli were tethered and spun in a high-frequency rotating electric field at a series of discrete field strengths. This was done first at low field strengths, then at field strengths generating speeds high enough to disrupt motor function, and finally at low field strengths. Comparison of the initial and final speed versus applied-torque plots yielded relative motor torque. For backward rotation, motor torque rose steeply at speeds close to zero, peaking, on average, at about 2.2 times the stall torque. For forward rotation, motor torque remained approximately constant up to speeds of about 60% of the zero-torque speed. Then the torque dropped linearly with speed, crossed zero, and reached a minimum, on average, at about -1.7 times the stall torque. The zero-torque speed increased with temperature (about 90 Hz at 11 degrees C, 140 Hz at 16 degrees C, and 290 Hz at 23 degrees C), while other parameters remained approximately constant. Sometimes the motor slipped at either extreme (delivered constant torque over a range of speeds), but eventually it broke. Similar results were obtained whether motors broke catastrophically (suddenly and completely) or progressively or were de-energized by brief treatment with an uncoupler. These results are consistent with a tightly coupled ratchet mechanism, provided that elastic deformation of force-generating elements is limited by a stop and that mechanical components yield at high applied torques.

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