Although the motility of the flagellated bacteria, Escherichia coli, has been widely studied, the effect of viscosity on swimming speed remains controversial. The swimming mode of wild-type E. coli is often idealized as a run-and-tumble sequence in which periods of swimming at a constant speed are randomly interrupted by a sudden change of direction at a very low speed. Using a tracking microscope, we follow cells for extended periods of time in Newtonian liquids of varying viscosity and find that the swimming behavior of a single cell can exhibit a variety of behaviors, including run and tumble and “slow random walk” in which the cells move at a relatively low speed. Although the characteristic swimming speed varies between individuals and in different polymer solutions, we find that the skewness of the speed distribution is solely a function of viscosity and can be used, in concert with the measured average swimming speed, to determine the effective running speed of each cell. We hypothesize that differences in the swimming behavior observed in solutions of different viscosity are due to changes in the flagellar bundling time, which increases as the viscosity rises, due to the lower rotation rate of the flagellar motor. A numerical simulation and the use of resistive force theory provide support for this hypothesis.
|Number of pages||6|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)|
|Publication status||Published - 20 Feb 2018|
- Fluid mechanics