Two-dimensional patterns in bacterial veils arise from self-generated, three-dimensional fluid flows

N. G. Cogan, C. W. Wolgemuth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The behavior of collections of oceanic bacteria is controlled by metabolic (chemotaxis) and physical (fluid motion) processes. Some sulfur-oxidizing bacteria, such as Thiovulum majus, unite these two processes via a material interface produced by the bacteria and upon which the bacteria are transiently attached. This interface, termed a bacterial veil, is formed by exo-polymeric substances (EPS) produced by the bacteria. By adhering to the veil while continuing to rotate their flagella, the bacteria are able to exert force on the fluid surroundings. This behavior induces a fluid flow that, in turn, causes the bacteria to aggregate leading to the formation of a physical pattern in the veil. These striking patterns are very similar in flavor to the classic convection instability observed when a shallow fluid is heated from below. However, the physics are very different since the flow around the veil is mediated by the bacteria and affects the bacterial densities. In this study, we extend a model of a one-dimensional veil in a two-dimensional fluid to the more realistic two-dimensional veil in a three-dimensional fluid. The linear stability analysis indicates that the Peclet number serves as a bifurcation parameter, which is consistent with experimental observations. We also solve the nonlinear problem numerically and are able to obtain patterns that are similar to those observed in the experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-229
Number of pages18
JournalBulletin of Mathematical Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Bacterial veils
  • Biofilm
  • Boundary integral method
  • Fluid/structure
  • Instability
  • Pattern formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Immunology
  • General Mathematics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • Pharmacology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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