A rotary motor drives Flavobacterium gliding. Academic Article uri icon


  • Cells of Flavobacterium johnsoniae, a rod-shaped bacterium devoid of pili or flagella, glide over glass at speeds of 2-4 m/s [1]. Gliding is powered by a protonmotive force [2], but the machinery required for this motion is not known. Usually, cells move along straight paths, but sometimes they exhibit a reciprocal motion, attach near one pole and flip end over end, or rotate. This behavior is similar to that of a Cytophaga species described earlier [3]. Development of genetic tools for F. johnsoniae led to discovery of proteins involved in gliding [4]. These include the surface adhesin SprB that forms filaments about 160 nm long by 6 nm in diameter, which, when labeled with a fluorescent antibody [2] or a latex bead [5], are seen to move longitudinally down the length of a cell, occasionally shifting positions to the right or the left. Evidently, interaction of these filaments with a surface produces gliding. To learn more about the gliding motor, we sheared cells to reduce the number and size of SprB filaments and tethered cells to glass by adding anti-SprB antibody. Cells spun about fixed points, mostly counterclockwise, rotating at speeds of 1 Hz or more. The torques required to sustain such speeds were large, comparable to those generated by the flagellar rotary motor. However, we found that a gliding motor runs at constant speed rather than at constant torque. Now, there are three rotary motors powered by protonmotive force: the bacterial flagellar motor, the Fo ATP synthase, and the gliding motor.

published proceedings

  • Curr Biol

altmetric score

  • 23.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Shrivastava, A., Lele, P. P., & Berg, H. C.

citation count

  • 52

complete list of authors

  • Shrivastava, Abhishek||Lele, Pushkar P||Berg, Howard C

publication date

  • February 2015