Hopping trajectories due to long-range interactions determine surface accumulation of microalgae

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The accumulation of motile cells at solid interfaces increases the rate of surface encounters and the likelihood of surface attachment, leading to surface colonization and biofilm formation. The cell density distribution in the vicinity of a physical boundary is influenced by the interactions between the microswimmers and their physical environment, including hydrodynamic and steric interactions, as well as by stochastic effects. Disentangling the contributions of these effects remains an experimental challenge. Here, we use a custom-made four-camera view microscope to track a population of motile puller-type Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in a relatively unconstrained three-dimensional (3D) domain. Our experiments yield an extensive sample of 3D trajectories including cell-surface encounters with a planar wall, from which we extract a full description of the dynamics and the stochasticity of swimming cells. We use this large data sample and combine it with Monte Carlo simulations to determine the link between the dynamics at the single-cell level and the cell density. Our experiments demonstrate that the near-wall scattering is bimodal, corresponding to steric and hydrodynamic effects. We find, however, that this near-wall dynamics has little influence on the cell accumulation at the surface. On the other hand, we present evidence of a cell-induced surface-directed rotation leading to a vertical orbiting behavior and hopping trajectories, consistent with long-range hydrodynamic effects. We identify this long-range effect to be at the origin of the significant surface accumulation of cells.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2102095118
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • 3D tracking
  • microswimmers
  • stochastic simulations
  • surface accumulation


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