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Rhodobacter sphaeroides WS8 grew, and swam vigorously, over the pH range 6 to 9. Sustained motility was, however, observed in populations of cells resuspended at pH values between 4.9 and 10.4, although the mean run speed was reduced at the extremes of pH. The ability of R. sphaeroides to swim in strong alkaline conditions prompted the question of whether motility at alkaline pH was powered by a sodium motive force, as has been found in the facultative alkalophilic Bacillus and Vibrio species, particularly as motility was found to be sensitive to the sodium channel inhibitor amiloride. The nature of the driving force of the flagellar motor was therefore investigated. It was found that R. sphaeroides was motile over the same pH range in the absence and presence of sodium ions. The protonophore CCCP was found to inhibit motility under all conditions, whereas monensin, an inhibitor of sodium pumps, had no effect upon motility in the presence or absence of sodium. It was concluded that the delta p is the driving force for the flagellar motor in R. sphaeroides at all values of pH. Amiloride, a specific inhibitor of the sodium-driven flagellar motor in alkalophilic Bacillus and Vibrio was shown to act non-specifically on the proton driven motor of R. sphaeroides, reducing the swimming speed of this organism in media with and without sodium to the same extent and over the complete pH range. Measurement of the delta p by using the electrochromic absorbance change of the carotenoid pigments to measure delta psi and 31P-NMR to measure delta pH showed that the maximum delta p was about -215 mV. At pH 10 the cells swam more slowly and the delta p was about -90 mV. These data suggest that the flagellar motor of R. sphaeroides is proton-driven under all conditions with a threshold for motor rotation below -90 mV and saturation at above -90 mV and below -215 mV.

Original publication




Journal article


Biochim Biophys Acta

Publication Date





101 - 107


Carbonyl Cyanide m-Chlorophenyl Hydrazone, Cell Movement, Hydrogen-Ion Concentration, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Rhodobacter sphaeroides, Sodium