Bacterial Flagellum

The bacterial flagellum is made up of the protein flagellin. Its shape is a 20 nanometer-thick hollow tube. It is helical and has a sharp bend just outside the outer membrane; this "hook" allows the helix to point directly away from the cell. A shaft runs between the hook and the basal body, passing through protein rings in the cell's membrane that act as bearings. Gram-positive organisms have 2 of these basal body rings, one in the peptidoglycan layer and one in the plasma membrane. Gram-negative organisms have 4 such rings: the L ring associates with the lipopolysaccharides, the P ring associates with peptidoglycan layer, the M ring is embedded in the plasma membrane, and the S ring is directly attached to the plasma membrane. The filament ends with a capping protein.



The bacterial flagellum is driven by a rotary engine made up of protein (Mot complex), located at the flagellum's anchor point on the inner cell membrane. The engine is powered by proton motive force, i.e., by the flow of protons (hydrogen ions) across the bacterial cell membrane due to a concentration gradient set up by the cell's metabolism (in Vibrio species there are two kinds of flagella, lateral and polar, and some are driven by a sodium ion pump rather than a proton pump). The rotor transports protons across the membrane, and is turned in the process. The rotor alone can operate at 6,000 to 17,000 rpm, but with the flagellar filament attached usually only reaches 200 to 1000 rpm.

Flagella do not rotate at a constant speed but instead can increase or decrease their rotational speed in relation to the strength of the proton motive force. Flagellar rotation can move bacteria through liquid media at speeds of up to 60 cell lengths/second (sec). Although this is only about 0.00017 km/h (0.00011 mph), when comparing this speed with that of higher organisms in terms of number of lengths moved per second, it is extremely fast. By comparison, the cheetah, the fastest land animal, can sprint at 110 km/h (68 mph), which is approximately 25 body lengths/sec.[18]

The components of the bacterial flagellum are capable of self-assembly without the aid of enzymes or other factors. Both the basal body and the filament have a hollow core, through which the component proteins of the flagellum are able to move into their respective positions. During assembly, protein components are added at the flagellar tip rather than at the base.
The basal body has several traits in common with some types of secretory pores, such as the hollow rod-like "plug" in their centers extending out through the plasma membrane. Given the structural similarities between bacterial flagella and bacterial secretory systems, it is thought that bacterial flagella may have evolved from the type three secretory system; however, it is not known for certain whether these pores are derived from the bacterial flagella or the bacterial secretory system

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