Holographic imaging reveals the mechanism of wall entrapment in swimming bacteria

Self–propelled particles, both biological and synthetic, are stably trapped by walls and develop high concentration peaks over bounding surfaces. In swimming bacteria, like E. coli, the physical mechanism behind wall entrapment is an intricate mixture of hydrodynamic and steric interactions with a strongly anisotropic character. We have demonstrated that, by using a combination of three-axis holographic microscopy and optical tweezers, it is possible to obtain volumetric reconstructions of individual E. coli cells that are sequentially released at a controlled distance and angle from a flat solid wall. We have found that hydrodynamic couplings can slow down the cell before collision, but reorientation only occurs while the cell is in constant contact with the wall. In the trapped state, all cells swim with the average body axis pointing into the surface. The amplitude of this pitch angle is anticorrelated to the amplitude of wobbling, thus indicating that entrapment is dominated by near–field couplings between the cell body and the wall.


Contact person: Silvio Bianchi, NANOTEC Rome