Viscoelasticity enhances collective motion of bacteria

Wentian Liao, Igor S. Aranson

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Bacteria form human and animal microbiota. They are the leading causes of many infections and constitute an important class of active matter. Concentrated bacterial suspensions exhibit large-scale turbulent-like locomotion and swarming. While the collective behavior of bacteria in Newtonian fluids is relatively well understood, many fundamental questions remain open for complex fluids. Here, we report on the collective bacterial motion in a representative biological non-Newtonian viscoelastic environment exemplified by mucus. Experiments are performed with synthetic porcine gastric mucus, natural cow cervical mucus, and a Newtonian-like polymer solution. We have found that an increase in mucin concentration and, correspondingly, an increase in the suspension's elasticity monotonously increases the length scale of collective bacterial locomotion. On the contrary, this length remains practically unchanged in Newtonian polymer solution in a wide range of concentrations. The experimental observations are supported by computational modeling. Our results provide insight into how viscoelasticity affects the spatiotemporal organization of bacterial active matter. They also expand our understanding of bacterial colonization of mucosal surfaces and the onset of antibiotic resistance due to swarming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberpgad291
JournalPNAS Nexus
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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