Mechanical limits of bacterial flagellar motors probed by electrorotation

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We used the technique of electrorotation to apply steadily increasing external torque to tethered cells of the bacterium Escherichia coli while continuously recording the speed of cell rotation. We found that the bacterial flagellar motor generates constant torque when rotating forward at low speeds and constant but considerably higher torque when rotating backward. At intermediate torques, the motor stalls. The torque-speed relationship is the same in both directional modes of switching motors. Motors forced backward usually break, either suddenly and irreversibly or progressively. Motors broken progressively rotate predominantly at integral multiples of a unitary speed during the course of both breaking and subsequent recovery, as expected if progressive breaking affects individual torque-generating units. Torque is reduced by the same factor at all speeds in partially broken motors, implying that the torque-speed relationship is a property of the individual torque-generating units. © 1995, The Biophysical Society. All rights reserved.




Berry, R. M., Turner, L., & Berg, H. C. (1995). Mechanical limits of bacterial flagellar motors probed by electrorotation. Biophysical Journal, 69(1), 280–286.

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