Topological defects in a living nematic ensnare swimming bacteria

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Abstract

Active matter exemplified by suspensions of motile bacteria or synthetic self-propelled particles exhibits a remarkable propensity to self-organization and collective motion. The local input of energy and simple particle interactions often lead to complex emergent behavior manifested by the formation of macroscopic vortices and coherent structures with long-range order. A realization of an active system has been conceived by combining swimming bacteria and a lyotropic liquid crystal. Here, by coupling the well-established and validated model of nematic liquid crystals with the bacterial dynamics, we develop a computational model describing intricate properties of such a living nematic. In faithful agreement with the experiment, the model reproduces the onset of periodic undulation of the director and consequent proliferation of topological defects with the increase in bacterial concentration. It yields a testable prediction on the accumulation of bacteria in the cores of +1/2 topological defects and depletion of bacteria in the cores of −1/2 defects. Our dedicated experiment on motile bacteria suspended in a freestanding liquid crystalline film fully confirms this prediction. Our findings suggest novel approaches for trapping and transport of bacteria and synthetic swimmers in anisotropic liquids and extend a scope of tools to control and manipulate microscopic objects in active matter.

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Genkin, M. M., Sokolov, A., Lavrentovich, O. D., & Aranson, I. S. (2017). Topological defects in a living nematic ensnare swimming bacteria. Physical Review X, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevX.7.011029

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