Computing the motor torque of Escherichia coli

Das, Debasish and Lauga, Eric (2018) Computing the motor torque of Escherichia coli. Soft Matter, 14 (29). pp. 5955-5967. ISSN 1744-6848 (

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The rotary motor of bacteria is a natural nano-technological marvel that enables cell locomotion by powering the rotation of semi-rigid helical flagellar filaments in fluid environments. It is well known that the motor operates essentially at constant torque in counter-clockwise direction but past work have reported a large range of values of this torque. Focusing on Escherichia coli cells that are swimming and cells that are stuck on a glass surface for which all geometrical and environmental parameters are known (N. C. Darnton et al., J. Bacteriol., 2007, 189, 1756-1764), we use two validated numerical methods to compute the value of the motor torque consistent with experiments. Specifically, we use (and compare) a numerical method based on the boundary integral representation of Stokes flow and also develop a hybrid method combining boundary element and slender body theory to model the cell body and flagellar filament, respectively. Using measured rotation speed of the motor, our computations predict a value of the motor torque in the range 440 pN nm to 829 pN nm, depending critically on the distance between the flagellar filaments and the nearby surface.