Flows that help bacteria feed and organize biofilms

ScienceDaily | 12/13/2018 | Staff
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Leading an international team of researchers in creating simulations of how fluids move, Mathijssen found that individual bacteria and biofilms can generate currents strong enough to draw distant nutrients.

In their work, published Dec. 11 in Physical Review Letters, the researchers were able to find predictable patterns of how fluids move based on the general shapes of biofilms, insights that could find applications in many fields.

Universality - Properties - Micro-hydrodynamics - Mathijssen - Lab

"There is a very strong universality in the physical properties of micro-hydrodynamics," said Mathijssen, who works in the lab of Manu Prakash, associate professor of bioengineering. "We've talked about bacteria but we could replace the word 'organism' with 'micro-robot' and the physics would be exactly the same."

When bacteria move, they disturb the liquids that surround them in the microscopic world. The researchers explored the strength of that disturbance in a single bacterium that moves in a way that is similar to many pathogenic species, including those that cause gastritis and cholera. They found that as this bacterium swims forward, it creates a tiny but stable current in the surrounding liquid with fluid moving toward its center and away from the head and tail.

Flows - Colony - Bacteria - Tide - Nutrients

Then, they calculated the flows produced by a colony of randomly arranged bacteria and were surprised to see that it created a strong, consistent tide capable of pulling in nutrients. This occurred regardless of the orientation of each bacterium so long as the colony was thicker in some areas than others, which causes fluid to move from high points to low points. Simulations of more orderly bacteria resulted in even stronger circulation.

Within organized biofilms, the researchers found two common patterns of movement: vortexes and asters. In a vortex pattern, the bacteria move in concentric circles and produce a flow that brings nutrients down to the biofilm's...
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