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Microswimmers hit the wall

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Published on Jan 7, 2013

Microbes 'feel' their way along a solid surface, much as a blindfolded person would move near a wall, according to a new study.

Using high-speed microscopic imaging, University of Cambridge researchers have found that algae move away from surfaces as a result of contact between the surface and the cells' flagella or cilia -- the hair-like appendages that propel cells through their fluid environment.

The new experiments were performed by Professor Raymond Goldstein's group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and demonstrate how the interactions of microbes with solid surfaces are considerably more complex than previously thought.

The finding can be exploited in relation to Chlamydomonas -- a model organism that has attracted considerable interest as a possible source of therapeutic proteins and renewable biofuel algae -- by providing solid surfaces to rectify the random swimming motion of the cells.

The research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA).

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