The bacterial flagellar motor is one of the most complex and sophisticated nanomachineries in nature. A duty ratio D is a fraction of time that the stator and the rotor interact and is a fundamental property to characterize the motor but remains to be determined. It is known that the stator units of the motor bind to and dissociate from the motor dynamically to control the motor torque depending on the load on the motor. At low load, at which the kinetics such as proton translocation speed limits the rotation rate, the dependency of the rotation rate on the number of stator units N implies D: the dependency becomes larger for smaller D. Contradicting observations supporting both the small and large D have been reported. A dilemma is that it is difficult to explore a broad range of N at low load because the stator units easily dissociate, and N is limited to one or two at vanishing load. Here, we develop an electrorotation method to dynamically control the load on the flagellar motor of Salmonella with a calibrated magnitude of the torque. By instantly reducing the load for keeping N high, we observed that the speed at low load depends on N, implying a small duty ratio. We recovered the torque-speed curves of individual motors and evaluated the duty ratio to be 0.14 ± 0.04 from the correlation between the torque at high load and the rotation rate at low load.
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