The way the unicellular, biflagellated, green alga Chlamydomonas orients upward has long been discussed in terms of both mechanics and physiology. In this study, we focus on the mechanics, i.e. the 'passive' mechanisms, of gravitaxis. To rotate the body upwards, cellular asymmetry is critical. Chlamydomonas can be depicted as a nearly spherical cell body with two anterior, symmetric flagella. The present study looks at the question of whether the existence of the flagella significantly affects torque generation in upward reorientation. The 'density asymmetry model' assumes that the cell is spherical and bottom-heavy and that the shape and weight of the flagella are negligible, while the 'shape asymmetry model' considers the shape of the flagella. Both our experimental and simulation results revealed a considerable contribution from shape asymmetry to the upward orientation of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which was several times larger than that of density asymmetry. From the experimental results, we also quantified the extent of bottom-heaviness, i.e. the distance between the centers of gravity and the figure when the cell body is assumed to be spherical. Our estimation was approximately 30 nm, only one-third of previous assumptions. These findings indicate the importance of the viscous drag of the flagella to the upward orientation, and thus negative gravitaxis, in Chlamydomonas.
- cell asymmetry
- Eukaryotic flagella