Stanislaw Makarchuk, Vasco C. Braz, Nuno A. M. Araújo, Lena Ciric & Giorgio Volpe
How motile bacteria move near a surface is a problem of fundamental biophysical interest and is key to the emergence of several phenomena of biological, ecological and medical relevance, including biofilm formation. Solid boundaries can strongly influence a cell’s propulsion mechanism, thus leading many flagellated bacteria to describe long circular trajectories stably entrapped by the surface. Experimental studies on near-surface bacterial motility have, however, neglected the fact that real environments have typical microstructures varying on the scale of the cells’ motion. Here, we show that micro-obstacles influence the propagation of peritrichously flagellated bacteria on a flat surface in a non-monotonic way. Instead of hindering it, an optimal, relatively low obstacle density can significantly enhance cells’ propagation on surfaces due to individual forward-scattering events. This finding provides insight on the emerging dynamics of chiral active matter in complex environments and inspires possible routes to control microbial ecology in natural habitats.