Simulation of cellular behavior on multiple scales requires models that are sufficiently detailed to capture central intracellular processes but at the same time enable the simulation of entire cell populations in a computationally cheap way. In this paper we present RapidCell, a hybrid model of chemotactic Escherichia coli that combines the Monod-Wyman-Changeux signal processing by mixed chemoreceptor clusters, the adaptation dynamics described by ordinary differential equations, and a detailed model of cell tumbling. Our model dramatically reduces computational costs and allows the highly efficient simulation of E. coli chemotaxis. We use the model to investigate chemotaxis in different gradients, and suggest a new, constant-activity type of gradient to systematically study chemotactic behavior of virtual bacteria. Using the unique properties of this gradient, we show that optimal chemotaxis is observed in a narrow range of CheA kinase activity, where concentration of the response regulator CheY-P falls into the operating range of flagellar motors. Our simulations also confirm that the CheB phosphorylation feedback improves chemotactic efficiency by shifting the average CheY-P concentration to fit the motor operating range. Our results suggest that in liquid media the variability in adaptation times among cells may be evolutionary favorable to ensure coexistence of subpopulations that will be optimally tactic in different gradients. However, in a porous medium (agar) such variability appears to be less important, because agar structure poses mainly negative selection against subpopulations with low levels of adaptation enzymes. RapidCell is available from the authors upon request.
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