Wen Yang is our Institute of Biology Leiden's nominee for the C.J. Kok Jury Award 2020.
About Wen's research
Bacteria sense chemicals in their environment and move towards attractive substances or away from deterrent stimuli. This behaviour is governed by chemosensory arrays, which consist of chemotaxis proteins that perceive chemical signals and transfer messages to each other. In the end, the signal reaches the motor apparatus of locomotory devices like flagella and the bacteria can move in the appropriate way.
‘Cryo electron tomography is a really powerful tool to look directly at macromolecules inside bacteria, offering a unique way to study cellular processes. I used it to visualise how bacteria monitor their environment and optimise their movement.’
She used advanced microscopy technique: cryo-electron tomography, whereby the cells are preserved and imaged at almost 200°C below zero. This way, Wen Yang visualised the chemosensory arrays in three dimensions at its near-native state. She did not only study model bacteria like Escherichia coli, but also several other species. On the cell surface, the chemosensory arrays of all species studied are arranged in a universal hexagonal pattern. Yet, beneath this pattern, Yang found that the chemotaxis proteins were distributed in species-specific patterns. This thesis reveals that much more variability exists than expected, and this pioneering research will trigger chemotaxis research into the cause and reason of this diversity.