Effect of cell aspect ratio on swarming bacteria

Bella Ilkanaiv, Daniel B Kearns, Gil Ariel, Avraham Beer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Swarming bacteria collectively migrate on surfaces using flagella, forming dynamic whirls and jets that consist of millions of individuals. Because some swarming bacteria elongate prior to actual motion, cell aspect ratio may play a significant role in the collective dynamics. Extensive research on self-propelled rodlike particles confirms that elongation promotes alignment, strongly affecting the dynamics. Here, we study experimentally the collective dynamics of variants of swarming Bacillus subtilis that differ in length. We show that the swarming statistics depends on the aspect ratio in a critical, fundamental fashion not predicted by theory. The fastest motion was obtained for the wild-type and variants that are similar in length. However, shorter and longer cells exhibit anomalous, non-Gaussian statistics and nonexponential decay of the autocorrelation function, indicating lower collective motility. These results suggest that the robust mechanisms to maintain aspect ratios may be important for efficient swarming motility. Wild-type cells are optimal in this sense.
Original languageEnglish GB
Article number158002
Pages (from-to)158002-1-5
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Issue number15
StatePublished - 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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