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Biophys J. 1998 May;74(5):2272-7.

Spatial sensing of stimulus gradients can be superior to temporal sensing for free-swimming bacteria.

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School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta 30332, USA.


Predictions of the minimal size an organism must have to swim along stimulus gradients were used to compare the relative advantages of sensory systems employing spatial (simultaneous) and temporal (sequential) gradient detection mechanisms for small free-swimming bacteria, leading to the following conclusions: 1) there are environmental conditions where spatial detection mechanisms can function for smaller organisms than can temporal mechanisms, 2) temporal mechanisms are superior (have a smaller size limit) for the difficult conditions of low concentration and shallow gradients, but 3) observed bacterial chemotaxis occurs mostly under conditions where spatial mechanisms have a smaller size limit, and 4) relevant conditions in the natural environment favor temporal mechanisms in some cases and spatial mechanisms in others. Thus, sensory ecology considerations do not preclude free-swimming bacteria from employing spatial detection mechanisms, as has been thought, and microbiologists should be on the lookout for them. If spatial mechanisms do not occur, the explanation should be sought elsewhere.

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