A flagellum (/fləˈdÊ’É›lÉ™m/; plural: flagella) is a lash-like appendage that protrudes from the cell body of certain bacteria and eukaryotic cells termed as flagellates. A flagellate can have one or several flagella. The primary function of a flagellum is that of locomotion, but it also often functions as a sensory organelle, being sensitive to chemicals and temperatures outside the cell. The similar structure in the archaea functions in the same way but is structurally different and has been termed the archaellum.

Flagella are organelles defined by function rather than structure. Flagella vary greatly. Both prokaryotic and eukaryotic flagella can be used for swimming but they differ greatly in protein composition, structure, and mechanism of propulsion. The word flagellum in Latin means whip.

An example of a flagellated bacterium is the ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori, which uses multiple flagella to propel itself through the mucus lining to reach the stomach epithelium. An example of a eukaryotic flagellate cell is the mammalian sperm cell, which uses its flagellum to propel itself through the female reproductive tract. Eukaryotic flagella are structurally identical to eukaryotic cilia, although distinctions are sometimes made according to function or length. Fimbriae and pili are also thin appendages, but have different functions and are usually smaller.

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Applied Microbiology Open Access

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