A Trace Amount of Surfactants Enables Diffusiophoretic Swimming of Bacteria
Authors and Affiliations
From birth to health, surfactants play an essential role in our lives. Due to the importance, their environmental impacts are well understood. One of the aspects that has been extensively studied is their impact on bacteria, particularly on their motility. Here, we uncover an alternate chemotactic strategy triggered by surfactants—diffusiophoresis. We show that even a trace amount of ionic surfactants, down to a single ppm level, can promote the bacterial diffusiophoresis by boosting the surface charge of the cells. Because diffusiophoresis is driven by the surface–solute interactions, surfactant-enhanced diffusiophoresis is observed regardless of the types of bacteria. Whether Gram-positive or -negative, flagellated or nonflagellated, the surfactants enable fast migration of freely suspended bacteria, suggesting a ubiquitous locomotion mechanism that has been largely overlooked. We also demonstrate the implication of surfactant-enhanced bacterial diffusiophoresis on the rapid formation of biofilms in flow networks, suggesting environmental and biomedical implications.
KEYWORDS: bacteria, surfactants, diffusiophoresis, surface charge, biofilms