Collective swimming and the dynamics of bacterial turbulence

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162 Scopus citations


To swim, a bacterium pushes against the fluid within which it is immersed, generating fluid flow that dies off on a length scale comparable to the size of the bacterium. However, in dense colonies of bacteria, the bacteria are close enough that flow generated by swimming is substantial. For these cases, complex flows can arise due to the interaction and feedback between the bacteria and the fluid. Recent experiments on dense populations of swimming Bacillus subtilis have revealed a volume fraction-dependent transition from random swimming to transient jet and vortex patterns in the bacteria/fluid mixture. The fluid motions that are observed are reminiscent of flows that are observed around translating objects at moderate to high Reynolds numbers. In this work, I present a two-phase model for the bacterial/fluid mixture. The model explains turbulent flows in terms of the dipole stress that the bacteria exert on the fluid, entropic elasticity due to the rod shape of each bacterium, and the torque on the bacteria due to fluid gradients. Solving the equations in two dimensions using realistic parameters, the model reproduces empirically observed velocity fields. Dimensional analysis provides scaling relations for the dependence of the characteristic scales on the model parameters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1564-1574
Number of pages11
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 15 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics


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