Bacteria are not too small for spatial sensing of chemical gradients: An experimental evidence

National Academy of Sciences
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Journal Article
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2003, 100 (10), pp. 5748 - 5753
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By analyzing the chemotactic behavior of a recently described marine bacterial species, we provide experimental evidence that bacteria are not too small for sensing chemical gradients spatially. The bipolar flagellated vibrioid bacteria (typical size 2 × 6 ?m) exhibit a unique motility pattern as they translate along as well as rotate around their short axis, i.e., the pathways of the cell poles describe a double helix. The natural habitat of the bacteria is characterized by steep oxygen gradients where they accumulate in a band at their preferred oxygen concentration of ?2 ?M. Single cells leaving the band toward the oxic region typically return to the band within 16 s following a U-shaped track. A detailed analysis of the tracks reveals that the cells must be able to sense the oxygen gradient perpendicular to their swimming direction. Thus, they can detect oxygen gradients along a distance of ?5 ?m corresponding to the extension of their long axis. The observed behavior can be explained by the presence of two independent sensor regions at either cell pole that modulate the rotation speed of the polar flagellar bundles, i.e., the flagellar bundle at the cell pole exposed to higher oxygen concentration is rotating faster than the other bundle. A mathematical model based on these assumptions reproduces the observed swimming behavior of the bacteria.
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