Motility in Bacteria (Prokaryotes)

flagella on bacteria

Flagella on bacteria by Mike Jones

Many types of bacteria have the ability to move. Movement in microorganisms allows them to locate food and to remove themselves from toxic micro-environments and less than desirable temperature conditions. Bacteria expend a large amount of energy during this process.

Bacteria use appendages called flagella to move. Flagella are composed of protein subunits called flagellin. Flagella can be located at one or both ends of a bacteria (polar flagellation) or spaced over the entire surface of the cell (peritrichous flagellation).

The appendages are not straight, but helical shaped (like a wave). The flagella for each species of bacteria have a constant wavelength (the distance between each wave in the flagella).

Unlike the human hair, a flagellum grows from the tip, not the base. Flagellin protein is made in the cell and transported through a hollow center to the tip of the flagellum. Therefore, if a tip is broke off, a new one is regenerated. The flagella are stiff structures and move only at the base, like a propeller.

The average speed of a bacteria is 50 micrometers per second. If the bacteria were the size of a cheetah, it would move at about 30 miles an hour.

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