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The European Physical Journal Special Topics

, Volume 224, Issue 17–18, pp 3119–3140 | Cite as

Flagella, flexibility and flow: Physical processes in microbial ecology

  • D.R. Brumley
  • R. Rusconi
  • K. Son
  • R. StockerEmail author
Review Physics of Locomotion
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Dynamics of Animal Systems

Abstract

How microorganisms interact with their environment and with their conspecifics depends strongly on their mechanical properties, on the hydrodynamic signatures they generate while swimming and on fluid flows in their environment. The rich fluid-structure interaction between flagella – the appendages microorganisms use for propulsion – and the surrounding flow, has broad reaching effects for both eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganisms. Here, we discuss selected recent advances in our understanding of the physical ecology of microorganisms, which have hinged on the ability to directly interrogate the movement of individual cells and their swimming appendages, in precisely controlled fluid environments, and to image them at appropriately fast timescales. We review how a flagellar buckling instability can unexpectedly serve a fundamental function in the motility of bacteria, we elucidate the role of hydrodynamics and flexibility in the emergent properties of groups of eukaryotic flagella, and we show how fluid flows characteristic of microbial habitats can strongly bias the migration and spatial distribution of bacteria. The topics covered here are illustrative of the potential inherent in the adoption of experimental methods and conceptual frameworks from physics in understanding the lives of microorganisms.

Keywords

Shear Rate Particle Image Velocimetry European Physical Journal Special Topic Swimming Speed Hydrodynamic Interaction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© EDP Sciences and Springer 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • D.R. Brumley
    • 1
    • 3
  • R. Rusconi
    • 1
    • 3
  • K. Son
    • 1
    • 2
  • R. Stocker
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Ralph M. Parsons Laboratory, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Mechanical EngineeringMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.Department of CivilEnvironmental and Geomatic EngineeringZurichSwitzerland

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