A mathematical model and numerical method for studying the collective dynamics of geotactic, gyrotactic and chemotactic micro-organisms immersed in a viscous fluid is presented. The Navier–Stokes equations of fluid dynamics are solved in the presence of a discrete collection of micro-organisms. These microbes act as point sources of gravitational force in the fluid equations, and thus affect the fluid flow. Physical factors, e.g. vorticity and gravity, as well as sensory factors affect swimming speed and direction. In the case of chemotactic microbes, the swimming orientation is a function of a molecular field. In the model considered here, the molecules are a nutrient whose consumption results in an upward gradient of concentration that drives its downward diffusion. The resultant upward chemotactically induced accumulation of cells results in (Rayleigh–Taylor) instability and eventually in steady or chaotic convection that transports molecules and affects the translocation of organisms. Computational results that examine the long-time behaviour of the full nonlinear system are presented.
The actual dynamical system consisting of fluid and suspended swimming organisms is obviously three-dimensional, as are the basic modelling equations. While the computations presented in this paper are two-dimensional, they provide results that match remarkably well the spatial patterns and long-time temporal dynamics of actual experiments; various physically applicable assumptions yield steady states, chaotic states, and bottom-standing plumes. The simplified representation of microbes as point particles allows the variation of input parameters and modelling details, while performing calculations with very large numbers of particles (≈104–105), enough so that realistic cell concentrations and macroscopic fluid effects can be modelled with one particle representing one microbe, rather than some collection of microbes. It is demonstrated that this modelling framework can be used to test hypotheses concerning the coupled effects of microbial behaviour, fluid dynamics and molecular mixing. Thus, not only are insights provided into the differing dynamics concerning purely geotactic and gyrotactic microbes, the dynamics of competing strategies for chemotaxis, but it is demonstrated that relatively economical explorations in two dimensions can deliver striking insights and distinguish among hypotheses.
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