Quenching active swarms: Effects of light exposure on collective motility in swarming Serratia marcescens

Junyi Yang, Paulo E. Arratia, Alison E. Patteson, Arvind Gopinath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Swarming colonies of the light-responsive bacteria Serratia marcescens grown on agar exhibit robust fluctuating large-scale flows that include arrayed vortices, jets and sinuous streamers.We study the immobilization and quenching of these collective flows when the moving swarm is exposed to intense wide-spectrum light with a substantial ultraviolet component. We map the emergent response of the swarm to light in terms of two parameters-light intensity and duration of exposure-and identify the conditions under which collective motility is impacted. For small exposure times and/or low intensities, we find collective motility to be negligibly affected. Increasing exposure times and/or intensity to higher values suppresses collective motility but only temporarily. Terminating exposure allows bacteria to recover and eventually reestablish collective flows similar to that seen in unexposed swarms. For long exposure times or at high intensities, exposed bacteria become paralysed and form aligned, jammed regions where macroscopic speeds reduce to zero. The effective size of the quenched region increases with time and saturates to approximately the extent of the illuminated region. Post-exposure, active bacteria dislodge immotile bacteria; initial dissolution rates are strongly dependent on duration of exposure. Based on our experimental observations, we propose a minimal Brownian dynamics model to examine the escape of exposed bacteria from the region of exposure. Our results complement studies on planktonic bacteria, inform models of patterning in gradated illumination and provide a starting point for the study of specific wavelengths on swarming bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20180960
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number156
StatePublished - 2019


  • Active jamming
  • Active matter
  • Bacterial swarms
  • Light response of bacteria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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