How do water mold spores swim? –ScienceDaily


Oomycetes, also called water moulds, are pathogenic microorganisms that look like fungi and are responsible for a range of diseases affecting several plant species. To reach and infect plants, zoospores – i.e. self-propelled spores – of oomycetes swim towards their target using two flagella1, facing each other. In a recent study led by a CNRS researcher, physicists and biologists worked together to precisely measure the movement of each flagellum when a zoospore follows a linear trajectory and when it rotates. They used this data to develop a theoretical model.

Their findings published in eLife (May 3, 2022) reveal that, in order for the zoospore to rotate, its anterior flagellum stops beating sinusoidally, as it does when moving along a straight path, and instead adopts a breaststroke. This is the first time that the movement of such organisms has been described on a microscopic scale. Beyond the fundamental biophysical questions raised by the nature of their movement, zoospores represent a new model of “microswimmers” distinct from algae and bacteria, suggesting new avenues of research in physics.

Thanks to these discoveries, we now understand how oomycete zoospores move, but we still don’t know when and why they change direction during their movement. In the future, researchers want to study the interactions between zoospores and the roots they infect, in order to identify the chemical processes that attract these pathogenic microorganisms.

This research was a collaboration between physicists from the Institut de Physique de Nice (CNRS / Université Côte d’Azur), biologists from the Institut Sophia Agrobiotech (INRAE ​​/ CNRS / Université Côte d’Azur), a theoretical physicist-modeller from the Laboratory of Theoretical Physics and Modeling (CNRS / CY Cergy Paris University), and engineer from the Joint Center for Applied Microscopy (University of the Côte d’Azur).

To note

1 A flagellum is a long mobile filament in the shape of a whip and located on the surface of a cell, by which the latter moves.

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