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Dynamics of a bacterial flagellum under reverse rotation

Adhyapak, Tapan Chandra; Stark, Holger

To initiate tumbling of an E. coli, one of the helical flagella reverses its sense of rotation. It then transforms from its normal form first to the transient semicoiled state and subsequently to the curly-I state. The dynamics of polymorphism is effectively modeled by describing flagellar elasticity through an extended Kirchhoff free energy. However, the complete landscape of the free energy remains undetermined because the ground state energies of the polymorphic forms are not known. We investigate how variations in these ground state energies affect the dynamics of a reversely rotated flagellum of a swimming bacterium. We find that the flagellum exhibits a number of distinct dynamical states and comprehensively summarize them in a state diagram. As a result, we conclude that tuning the landscape of the extended Kirchhoff free energy alone cannot generate the intermediate full-length semicoiled state. However, our model suggests an ad hoc method to realize the sequence of polymorphic states as observed for a real bacterium. Since the elastic properties of bacterial flagella are similar, our findings can easily be extended to other peritrichous bacteria.
Published in: Soft matter, 10.1039/c6sm00443a, Royal Society of Chemistry
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  • This publication is with permission of the rights owner freely accessible due to an Alliance licence and a national licence (funded by the DFG, German Research Foundation) respectively.