Mechanobiology of stator remodeling in the bacterial flagellar motor
Motility is critical for the survival and dispersal of bacteria, and it plays an important role during infection. Regulation of bacterial motility via chemotaxis and gene regulation is well studied. However, recent work has added a new dimension to this problem. The flagellar motor of bacteria autonomously assembles and disassembles torque-generating stator units in response to changes in the external viscous load. In Escherichia coli, up to 11 stator units drive the motor at high load while all the stator units are released at low load. We study this process by artificially manipulating the motor load using electrorotation, where a high frequency rotating electric field applies an external torque on the flagellar motor. Using this technique, we can increase or decrease the motor load at will and measure the resulting stator remodeling. We measured stator remodeling in both clockwise and counterclockwise rotating motors, and found that the motor’s response has a conserved torque dependence. We built a model that captures the observed dynamics and provides insight into the underlying molecular interactions. Torque-dependent stator remodeling takes place within tens of seconds, making it a highly responsive autonomous control mechanism.