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A crucial phase in the infection process, which remains poorly understood, is the localization of suitable host cells by bacteria. It is often assumed that chemotaxis plays a key role during this phase. Here, we report a quantitative study on how Salmonella Typhimurium search for T84 human colonic epithelial cells. Combining time-lapse microscopy and mathematical modeling, we show that bacteria can be described as chiral active particles with strong active speed fluctuations, which are of biological, as opposed to thermal, origin. We observe that there exists a giant range of inter-individual variability of the bacterial exploring capacity. Furthermore, we find Salmonella Typhimurium does not exhibit biased motion towards the cells and show that the search time statistics is consistent with a random search strategy. Our results indicate that in vitro localization of host cells, and also cell infection, are random processes, not involving chemotaxis, that strongly depend on bacterial motility parameters.


Stefan Otte, Emiliano Perez Ipiña, Rodolphe Pontier-Bres, Dorota Czerucka, Fernando Peruani. Statistics of pathogenic bacteria in the search of host cells. Nature communications. 2021 Mar 31;12(1):1990

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PMID: 33790272

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