Dynamic stiffening of the flagellar hook

For many bacteria, motility stems from one or more flagella, each rotated by the bacterial flagellar motor, a powerful rotary molecular machine. The hook, a soft polymer at the base of each flagellum, acts as a universal joint, coupling rotation between the rigid membrane-spanning rotor and rigid flagellum. In multi-flagellated species, where thrust arises from a hydrodynamically coordinated flagellar bundle, hook flexibility is crucial, as flagella rotate significantly off-axis. However, consequently, the thrust applies a significant bending moment. Therefore, the hook must simultaneously be compliant to enable bundle formation yet rigid to withstand large hydrodynamical forces. Here, via high-resolution measurements and analysis of hook fluctuations under dynamical conditions, we elucidate how it fulfills this double functionality: the hook shows a dynamic increase in bending stiffness under increasing torsional stress. Such strain-stiffening allows the system to be flexible when needed yet reduce deformation under high loads, enabling high speed motility.

Full text: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-30295-7

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