Many motile microorganisms adjust their swimming motion relative to the gravitational field and thus counteract sedimentation to the ground. This gravitactic behavior is often the result of an inhomogeneous mass distribution which aligns the cell similar to a buoy. However, it has been suggested that gravitaxis can also result from a geometrical fore-rear asymmetry, typical for many self-propelling organisms. Despite several attempts, no conclusive evidence for such an asymmetry-induced gravitactic motion exists.

Here, we study the motion of asymmetric self-propelled colloidal particles which have a homogeneous mass density and a well-defined shape. In experiments and by theoretical modeling we demonstrate that a shape anisotropy alone is sufficient to induce gravitactic motion with either preferential upward or downward swimming. In addition, also trochoid-like trajectories transversal to the direction of gravitation are observed.

Further information

Gravitaxis of asymmetric self-propelled colloidal particles
Borge ten Hagen, Felix Kümmel, Raphael Wittkowski, Daisuke Takagi, Hartmut Löwen, and Clemens Bechinger
Nature Comm. 5, 4829 (2014)