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The bacterial flagellar motor is the most complex structure in the bacterial cell, driving the ion-driven rotation of the helical flagellum. The ordered expression of the regulon and the assembly of the series of interacting protein rings, spanning the inner and outer membranes to form the ∼45-50-nm protein complex, have made investigation of the structure and mechanism a major challenge since its recognition as a rotating nanomachine about 40 years ago. Painstaking molecular genetics, biochemistry, and electron microscopy revealed a tiny electric motor spinning in the bacterial membrane. Over the last decade, new single-molecule and in vivo biophysical methods have allowed investigation of the stability of this and other large protein complexes, working in their natural environment inside live cells. This has revealed that in the bacterial flagellar motor, protein molecules in both the rotor and stator exchange with freely circulating pools of spares on a timescale of minutes, even while motors are continuously rotating. This constant exchange has allowed the evolution of modified components allowing bacteria to keep swimming as the viscosity or the ion composition of the outside environment changes. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Microbiology, Volume 74 is September 8, 2020. Please see for revised estimates.

Original publication




Journal article


Annu Rev Microbiol

Publication Date