Role of tumbling in bacterial swarming

Marina Sidortsov, Yakov Morgenstern, Avraham Be'Er

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Typical wild-type bacteria swimming in sparse suspensions exhibit a movement pattern called "run and tumble," characterized by straight trajectories (runs) interspersed by shorter, random reorientation (tumbles). This is achieved by rotating their flagella counterclockwise, or clockwise, respectively. The chemotaxis signaling network operates in controlling the frequency of tumbles, enabling navigation toward or away from desired regions in the medium. In contrast, while in dense populations, flagellated bacteria exhibit collective motion and form large dynamic clusters, whirls, and jets, with intricate dynamics that is fundamentally different than trajectories of sparsely swimming cells. Although collectively swarming cells do change direction at the level of the individual cell, often exhibiting reversals, it has been suggested that chemotaxis does not play a role in multicellular colony expansion, but the change in direction stems from clockwise flagellar rotation. In this paper, the effects of cell rotor switching (i.e., the ability to tumble) and chemotaxis on the collective statistics of swarming bacteria are studied experimentally in wild-type Bacillus subtilis and two mutants - one that does not tumble and one that tumbles independently of the chemotaxis system. We show that while several of the parameters examined are similar between the strains, other collective and individual characteristics are significantly different. The results demonstrate that tumbling and/or flagellar directional rotor switching has an important role on the dynamics of swarming, and imply that swarming models of self-propelled rods that do not take tumbling and/or rotor switching into account may be oversimplified.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number022407
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number2
StatePublished - 16 Aug 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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