The Flagellar Motor of Caulobacter Crescentus Generates More Torque When a Cell Swims Backwards

November 19, 2015

Fig. 1:Types of cell tethering * [Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature Physics ©2015

The bacterium Caulobacter crescentus swims by rotating a single right-handed helical filament. These cells have two swimming modes: a pusher mode, in which clockwise (CW) rotation of the filament thrusts the cell body forwards, and a puller mode, in which counterclockwise (CCW) rotation pulls it backwards. The situation is reversed in Escherichia coli, a bacterium that rotates several left-handed filaments CCW to drive the cell body forwards. The flagellar motor in E. coli generates more torque in the CCW direction than the CW direction in swimming cells. However, C. crescentus and other bacteria with single filaments swim forwards and backwards at similar speeds, prompting the assumption that motor torques in the two modes are the same.

In a letter to Nature Physics, Prof. Howard Berg and members of his group present evidence that motors in C. crescentus develop higher torques in the puller mode than in the pusher mode, and suggest that the anisotropy in torque generation is similar in the two species, despite the differences in filament handedness and motor bias.

*See P. Lele, T. Roland, A. Shrivastava, Y. Chen & H.C. Berg, "The flagellar motor of Caulobacter crescentus generates more torque when a cell swims backwards," Nature Physics (2015) doi:10.1038/nphys3528.