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Escherichia coli is a single‐celled organism that lives in your gut. It is equipped with a set of rotary motors only 45 nm in diameter. Each motor drives a long, thin, helical filament that extends several cell body lengths out into the external medium. The assemblage of motor and filament is called a flagellum. The concerted motion of several flagella enables a cell to swim. A cell can move toward regions that it deems more favorable by measuring changes in the concentrations of certain chemicals in its environment (mostly nutrients), deciding whether life is getting better or worse, and then modulating the direction of rotation of its flagella. Thus, in addition to rotary engines and propellers, E. coli's standard accessories include particle counters, rate meters, and gear boxes. This microorganism is a nanotechnologist's dream. I will discuss the features that make it so, from the perspectives of several scientific disciplines: anatomy, genetics, chemistry, and physics.
E. coli, a self‐replicating object only a thousandth of a millimeter in size, can swim 35 diameters a second, taste simple chemicals in its environment, and decide whether life is getting better or worse.
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