Apr 9, 2020

Microrheology reveals microscale viscosity gradients in planktonic systems

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Oscar GuadayolS. Humphries


Microbial activity in planktonic systems creates a dynamic and heterogeneous microscale seascape that harbours a diverse community of microorganisms and ecological interactions of global significance. Over recent decades a great deal of effort has been put into understanding this complex system, particularly focusing on the role of chemical patchiness, while overlooking a governing feature of microbial life affected by biological activity: viscosity. Here we use microrheological techniques to measure viscosity at length scales relevant to microorganisms. Our results reveal the viscous nature and the spatial extent of the phycosphere and show heterogeneity in viscosity at the microscale. Such heterogeneity affects the distribution of chemicals and microorganisms, with pervasive and profound implications for the functioning of the entire planktonic ecosystem.

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