Life in a Tight Spot: How Bacteria Swim, Disperse, and Grow in Crowded Spaces

November 26, 2021 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Arun Ramchandran

Life in a Tight Spot: How Bacteria Swim, Disperse, and Grow in Crowded Spaces
Speaker: Sujit Datta
Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Princeton University

Join us:
Zoom link:
Meeting ID: 867 6293 1790, Passcode: 759852


Bacterial motility and growth play central roles in agriculture, the environment, and medicine. While
bacterial behavior is typically studied in bulk liquid or on flat surfaces, many bacterial habitats—e.g.,
soils, sediments, and biological gels/tissues—are complex and crowded spaces. In this talk, I will
describe my group’s work using tools from soft matter engineering to address this gap in knowledge. In
particular, using studies of E. coli in transparent 3D porous media, we demonstrate how confinement in
a crowded medium fundamentally alters bacterial behavior. In particular, we show how the paradigm of
run-and-tumble motility is dramatically altered by pore-scale confinement, both for cells performing
undirected motion and those performing chemotaxis, directed motion in response to a chemical
stimulus. Our porous media also enable precisely structured multi-cellular communities to be 3D
printed. Using this capability, we show how spatial variations in the ability of cells to perform
chemotaxis enable populations to autonomously stabilize large-scale perturbations in their overall
morphology. Finally, we show how when the pores are small enough to prevent cells from swimming
through the pore space, expansion of a community via cellular growth and division gives rise to distinct,
highly-complex, large-scale community morphologies. Together, our work thus reveals new principles to
predict and control the behavior of bacteria, and active matter in general, in complex and crowded

Sujit Datta is an Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Princeton University. He
earned a BA in Mathematics and Physics and an MS in Physics in 2008 from the University of
Pennsylvania. He earned his PhD in Physics in 2013 from Harvard, where he studied fluid dynamics and
instabilities in porous media and colloidal microcapsules with David Weitz. His postdoctoral training was in Chemical Engineering at Caltech, where he studied the biophysics of the gut with Rustem Ismagilov.

He joined Princeton in 2017, where his lab studies the dynamics of soft and living materials in complex
environments. Prof. Datta is the recipient of the NSF CAREER Award, Pew Biomedical Scholar Award,
AIChE 35 Under 35 Award, ACS Unilever Award, APS Andreas Acrivos Award in Fluid Dynamics, and
multiple Commendations for Outstanding Teaching.

Research Webpage: