Fluid mechanics of swimming bacteria with multiple flagella

Philipp Kanehl, Takuji Ishikawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


It is known that some kinds of bacteria swim by forming a bundle of their multiple flagella. However, the details of flagella synchronization as well as the swimming efficiency of such bacteria have not been fully understood. In this study, swimming of multiflagellated bacteria is investigated numerically by the boundary element method. We assume that the cell body is a rigid ellipsoid and the flagella are rigid helices suspended on flexible hooks. Motors apply constant torque to the hooks, rotating the flagella either clockwise or counterclockwise. Rotating all flagella clockwise, bundling of all flagella is observed in every simulated case. It is demonstrated that the counter rotation of the body speeds up the bundling process. During this procedure the flagella synchronize due to hydrodynamic interactions. Moreover, the results illustrated that during running the multiflagellated bacterium shows higher propulsive efficiency (distance traveled per one flagellar rotation) over a bacterium with a single thick helix. With an increasing number of flagella the propulsive efficiency increases, whereas the energetic efficiency decreases, which indicates that efficiency is something multiflagellated bacteria are assigning less priority to than to motility. These findings form a fundamental basis in understanding bacterial physiology and metabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number042704
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Apr 11

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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