The Upper Surface of an Escherichia Coli Swarm Is Stationary

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The Upper Surface of an Escherichia Coli Swarm Is Stationary

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Title: The Upper Surface of an Escherichia Coli Swarm Is Stationary
Author: Zhang, Rongjing; Turner, Linda; Berg, Howard Curtis

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Citation: Zhang, Rongjing, Linda Turner, and Howard Curtis Berg. 2010. The upper surface of an Escherichia coli swarm is stationary. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(1): 288-290.
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Abstract: When grown in a rich medium on agar, many bacteria elongate, produce more flagella, and swim in a thin film of fluid over the agar surface in swirling packs. Cells that spread in this way are said to swarm. The agar is a solid gel, with pores smaller than the bacteria, so the swarm/agar interface is fixed. Here we show, in experiments with Escherichia coli, that the swarm/air interface also is fixed. We deposited MgO smoke particles on the top surface of an E. coli swarm near its advancing edge, where cells move in a single layer, and then followed the motion of the particles by dark-field microscopy and the motion of the underlying cells by phase-contrast microscopy. Remarkably, the smoke particles remained fixed (diffusing only a few micrometers) while the swarming cells streamed past underneath. The diffusion coefficients of the smoke particles were smaller over the virgin agar ahead of the swarm than over the swarm itself. Changes between these two modes of behavior were evident within 10–20 μm of the swarm edge, indicating an increase in depth of the fluid in advance of the swarm. The only plausible way that the swarm/air interface can be fixed is that it is covered by a surfactant monolayer pinned at its edges. When a swarm is exposed to air, such a monolayer can markedly reduce water loss. When cells invade tissue, the ability to move rapidly between closely opposed fixed surfaces is a useful trait.
Published Version: doi:10.1073/pnas.0912804107
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