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Rheology of bacterial superfluids in viscous environments

Abstract : Viscous environments are ubiquitous in nature and in engineering applications, from mucus in lungs to oil recovery strategies in the earth's subsurface – and in all these environments, bacteria also thrive. The behavior of bacteria in viscous environments has been investigated for a single bacterium, but not for active suspensions. Dense populations of pusher-type bacteria are known to create superfluidic regimes where the effective viscosity of the entire suspension is reduced through collective motion, and the main purpose of this study is to investigate how a viscous environment will affect this behavior. Using a Couette rheometer, we measure shear stress as a function of the applied shear rate to define the effective viscosity of suspensions of Escherichia coli (E. coli), while varying both the bacterial density within the suspension and the viscosity of the suspending fluid. We document the remarkable observation that E. coli decreases the effective suspension viscosity to near-zero (superfluidic regime) for all solvent viscosities tested (1–17 mPa s). Specifically, we observe that the bacterial density needed to trigger this superfluidic regime and the maximum shear rate under which this regime can be sustained both decrease with increasing solvent viscosity. We find that the resulting rheograms can be well approximated by the Carreau–Yasuda law. Using this, we propose a constitutive model as a function of the solvent viscosity and the bacterial concentration only. This model captures the onset of the superfluidic regime and offers promising avenues for the modelling of flow of bacterial suspensions in viscous environments.
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Contributor : Harold Auradou <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - 2:06:34 PM
Last modification on : Friday, July 16, 2021 - 3:36:20 AM

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Jane Chui, Carine Douarche, Harold Auradou, Ruben Juanes. Rheology of bacterial superfluids in viscous environments. Soft Matter, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2021, ⟨10.1039/D1SM00243K⟩. ⟨hal-03286373⟩



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