Structural diversity of bacterial flagellar motors

Songye Chen, Morgan Beeby, Gavin E. Murphy, Jared R. Leadbetter, David R. Hendrixson, Ariane Briegel, Zhuo Li, Jian Shi, Elitza I. Tocheva, Axel Müller, Megan J. Dobro, Grant J. Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

227 Scopus citations


The bacterial flagellum is one of nature's most amazing and well-studied nanomachines. Its cell-wall-anchored motor uses chemical energy to rotate a microns-long filament and propel the bacterium towards nutrients and away from toxins. While much is known about flagellar motors from certain model organisms, their diversity across the bacterial kingdom is less well characterized, allowing the occasional misrepresentation of the motor as an invariant, ideal machine. Here, we present an electron cryotomographical survey of flagellar motor architectures throughout the Bacteria. While a conserved structural core was observed in all 11 bacteria imaged, surprisingly novel and divergent structures as well as different symmetries were observed surrounding the core. Correlating the motor structures with the presence and absence of particular motor genes in each organism suggested the locations of five proteins involved in the export apparatus including FliI, whose position below the C-ring was confirmed by imaging a deletion strain. The combination of conserved and specially-adapted structures seen here sheds light on how this complex protein nanomachine has evolved to meet the needs of different species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2972-2981
Number of pages10
JournalEMBO Journal
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 20 2011


  • Bacterial flagellar motor
  • electron cryotomography
  • motility
  • phylogenetic profiling
  • subtomogram average

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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