Diverse processes—e.g. bioremediation, biofertilization, and microbial drug delivery—rely on bacterial migration in disordered, three-dimensional (3D) porous media. However, how pore-scale confinement alters bacterial motility is unknown due to the opacity of typical 3D media. As a result, models of migration are limited and often employ ad hoc assumptions. Here we reveal that the paradigm of run-and-tumble motility is dramatically altered in a porous medium. By directly visualizing individual Escherichia coli, we find that the cells are intermittently and transiently trapped as they navigate the pore space, exhibiting diffusive behavior at long time scales. The trapping durations and the lengths of “hops” between traps are broadly distributed, reminiscent of transport in diverse other disordered systems; nevertheless, we show that these quantities can together predict the long-time bacterial translational diffusivity. Our work thus provides a revised picture of bacterial motility in complex media and yields principles for predicting cellular migration.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- General Physics and Astronomy
- General Chemistry
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology