Synechococcus as a "singing" bacterium: biology inspired by micro-engineered acoustic streaming devices
Certain cyanobacteria, such as open ocean strains of Synechococcus, are able to swim at speeds up to 25 diameters per second, without flagella or visible changes in shape. The means by which Synechococcus generates thrust for self-propulsion is unknown. The only mechanism that has not been ruled out employs tangential waves of surface deformations. In Ehlers et al, the average swimming velocity for this mechanism was estimated using the methods inaugurated by Taylor and Lighthill in the 1950's and revisited in differential geometric language by Shapere and Wilczek in 1989. In this article we propose an entirely different physical principle self propulsion based on acoustic streaming (AS). Micro-pumps in silicon chips, based on AS, have been constructed by engineers since the 1990's, but to the best of our knowledge acoustic streaming as a means of microorganisms locomotion has not been proposed before. Our hypothesis is supported by two recent discoveries: (1) In Samuel, et al, deep-freeze electron microscopy of the motile strain WH8113 revealed a crystalline outer layer (CS) covered with a forest of "spicules" (Sp) extending from the inner membrane through the CS, projecting 150 nm into the surrounding fluid. (2) In Pelling et al, atomic force microscopy (AFM) was used to find that the cell wall of yeast cells periodically oscillates on nano-scale amplitudes at frequencies of 0.8 to 1.6 kHz, and that the oscillations are generated metabolically. We propose that the spicules, in contact with the cell's power systems, could perform high frequency motions generating acoustic streaming (AS) in the surrounding fluid. We compare two models for self-propulsion employing acoustic streaming: the quartz wind effect (QW) and boundary induced streaming generated by surface acoustic waves (SAW).