Statistical mechanics of geomagnetic orientation in sediment bacteria
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Last year we reported on time-of-transit experiments in which magnetically orienting bacteria crossed a 1-mm stretch in the direction of a uniform magnetic field. The bacteria were found to behave as tiny self-propelled compass needles subject both to magnetic field alignment and to the randomizing effect of thermal agitation. In strong fields, magnetic bacteria are held in tight aligment; in weaker fields, their swimming paths meander more and transit times are greater. Paul Langevin derived an expression for the distribution of orientation in an ensemble of free-moving dipole particles as a function of ambient field strength. His theory becomes applicable to our experiments when bacterial migration is analyzed as a sequence of short steps during each of which the cell swims in a direction randomly selected from the Langevin distribution . The duration of each step, Δt, is actually a time constant of the cell's loss of directionality due to thermal agitation. By thus treating the migration as a process of random walk with drift, we are able to predict the mean and variance of the time of transit across a 1-mm stretch.
Also published as: Biological Bulletin 159 (1980): 459-460
Suggested CitationGilson, M., & Kalmijn, A. J. (1981). Statistical mechanics of geomagnetic orientation in sediment bacteria. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. https://doi.org/10.1575/1912/10247
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