Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Most free-swimming bacteria move in approximately straight lines, interspersed with random reorientation phases. A key open question concerns varying mechanisms by which reorientation occurs. We combine mathematical modelling with analysis of a large tracking dataset to study the poorly understood reorientation mechanism in the monoflagellate species Rhodobacter sphaeroides. The flagellum on this species rotates counterclockwise to propel the bacterium, periodically ceasing rotation to enable reorientation. When rotation restarts the cell body usually points in a new direction. It has been assumed that the new direction is simply the result of Brownian rotation. We consider three variants of a self-propelled particle model of bacterial motility. The first considers rotational diffusion only, corresponding to a non-chemotactic mutant strain. Two further models incorporate stochastic reorientations, describing 'run-and-tumble' motility. We derive expressions for key summary statistics and simulate each model using a stochastic computational algorithm. We also discuss the effect of cell geometry on rotational diffusion. Working with a previously published tracking dataset, we compare predictions of the models with data on individual stopping events in R. sphaeroides. This provides strong evidence that this species undergoes some form of active reorientation rather than simple reorientation by Brownian rotation.

Original publication




Journal article


J R Soc Interface

Publication Date





Brownian motion, bacterial motility, rotational diffusion, self-propelled particle, tracking, Cell Polarity, Computer Simulation, Mechanotransduction, Cellular, Models, Biological, Orientation, Rheology, Rhodobacter sphaeroides, Rotation, Stress, Mechanical, Viscosity