Flexibility of bacterial flagella in external shear results in complex swimming trajectories

M. Tournus, A. Kirshtein, Leonid V. Berlyand, Igor Aronson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


Many bacteria use rotating helical flagella in swimming motility. In the search for food or migration towards a new habitat, bacteria occasionally unbundle their flagellar filaments and tumble, leading to an abrupt change in direction. Flexible flagella can also be easily deformed by external shear flow, leading to complex bacterial trajectories. Here, we examine the effects of flagella flexibility on the navigation of bacteria in two fundamental shear flows: planar shear and Poiseuille flow realized in long channels. On the basis of slender body elastodynamics and numerical analysis, we discovered a variety of non-trivial effects stemming from the interplay of self-propulsion, elasticity and shear-induced flagellar bending. We show that in planar shear flow the bacteria execute periodic motion, whereas in Poiseuille flow, they migrate towards the centre of the channel or converge towards a limit cycle. We also find that even a small amount of random reorientation can induce a strong response of bacteria, leading to overall non-periodic trajectories. Our findings exemplify the sensitive role of flagellar flexibility and shed new light on the navigation of bacteria in complex shear flows.


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering

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