Many kinds of cells can sense flow, just as human skin cells can feel the difference between a gentle breeze and a strong wind. But we depend on feeling the force involved, the push-back from the air against us. Without that push, we can’t distinguish speed; when the windows are closed, our skin can’t feel any difference in air force whether we are sitting in an office, a speeding car or a cruising airplane. But now, a team of researchers has discovered that some bacteria can in fact detect the speed of flow regardless of the force. The team has bioengineered a real-time bacteria speedometer by linking a flow-detecting gene in Pseudomonas aeruginosa to one for illumination: the faster the flow, the brighter the glow. The flow detection is independent of force, prompting new questions about how bacteria sense their environments.
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