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A Better Way To Watch Bacteria Swim

Researchers have developed a new method for studying bacterial swimming, one that allows them to trap Escherichia coli bacteria and modify the microbes' environment without hindering the way they move.

The new approach, described this month in Nature Methods, uses optical traps, microfluidic chambers and fluorescence to get an improved picture of how E. coli get around.

The microfluidic chambers provide a controlled environment in which the bacteria swim, and allow the researchers to introduce specific stimuli – such as chemical attractants – to see if the microbes change direction in response to that stimulus.

Optical traps use lasers to confine individual cells without impeding their rotation or the movement of their flagella. University of Illinois physics professor Yann Chemla, who co-led the study with physics professor Ido Golding, calls the optical traps "bacterial treadmills."
 
 

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