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Lag, lock, sync, slip: the many 'phases' of coupled flagella.

ABSTRACT

In a multitude of life's processes, cilia and flagella are found indispensable. Recently, the biflagellated chlorophyte alga Chlamydomonas has become a model organism for the study of ciliary motility and synchronization. Here, we use high-speed, high-resolution imaging of single pipette-held cells to quantify the rich dynamics exhibited by their flagella. Underlying this variability in behaviour are biological dissimilarities between the two flagella-termed cis and trans, with respect to a unique eyespot. With emphasis on the wild-type, we derive limit cycles and phase parametrizations for self-sustained flagellar oscillations from digitally tracked flagellar waveforms. Characterizing interflagellar phase synchrony via a simple model of coupled oscillators with noise, we find that during the canonical swimming breaststroke the cis flagellum is consistently phase-lagged relative to, while remaining robustly phase-locked with, the trans flagellum. Transient loss of synchrony, or phase slippage, may be triggered stochastically, in which the trans flagellum transitions to a second mode of beating with attenuated beat envelope and increased frequency. Further, exploiting this alga's ability for flagellar regeneration, we mechanically induced removal of one or the other flagellum of the same cell to reveal a striking disparity between the beatings of the cis and trans flagella, in isolation. These results are evaluated in the context of the dynamic coordination of Chlamydomonas flagella.