Yann Robert Chemla
For More Information
- Ph.D., Physics, University of California-Berkeley, 2001
Professor Yann Chemla received his PhD. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 2001. Trained as a condensed matter experimentalist, he developed an interest in biophysics through his study of magnetotactic bacteria and his development of a magnetic nanoparticle-based biosensor. Prof. Chemla completed his transition to biophysics as a postdoctoral fellow in Prof. Carlos Bustamante’s laboratory at Berkeley. There, he trained in single-molecule methods, using optical tweezers to study DNA packaging in viruses. He joined the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2007. He is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award and a Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, and was named Fellow of the American Physical Society. Since 2015, he has served as co-Director of the NSF Physics Frontiers Center (PFC) the “Center for the Physics of Living Cells” (CPLC).
The living cell is a remarkable “factory” of complex molecular structures that carry out specialized mechanical tasks and act like nano-scale machines. These molecular machines are involved in a wide range of biological processes, from faithfully copying the genome to propelling cells. Broadly speaking, the Chemla group is interested in understanding the mechanism by which these machines operate, interact with other cellular molecules, and are regulated. One area of focus is the proteins that process and maintain genomic DNA.
Our lab uses powerful biophysical techniques to follow these processes one molecule at a time, avoiding the averaging artifacts of traditional ensemble methods. Optical traps—or “optical tweezers”—which utilize the force generated by focused laser light to manipulate microscopic objects, allow us to follow the trajectories of individual molecules in real time and measure the forces they generate.
Research in the Chemla lab involves developing new methodologies and, enabled by these advances, making scientific discoveries. Examples include the developments of high-resolution optical tweezers to detect the Ångström-scale motion of proteins on DNA and of combined optical trap-fluorescence microscopy to investigate conformational dynamics in a DNA processing machine. Our group has further extended these approaches to study the fusion of subcellular protein condensates, cargo transport inside the cell, and the dynamics of individual swimming bacterial cells.
Members of the Chemla laboratory work on all facets of research in this area: design and construction of state-of-the art instrumentation, investigation of biological systems using single-molecule manipulation methods, and quantitative analysis and modeling of collected trajectories. Interested students and postdocs with backgrounds in physics, biology, chemistry, or related fields are welcome to contact me.
Selected Articles in Journals
- Carney SP, Ma W, Whitley KD, Jia H, Lohman TM, Luthey-Schulten Z, Chemla YR. (2021) "Kinetic and structural mechanism for DNA unwinding by a non-hexameric helicase." Nat Commun. 12(1):7015. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-27304-6.
- Dai L, Singh D, Lu S, Kottadiel VI, Vafabakhsh R, Mahalingam M, Chemla YR, Ha T, Rao VB. (2021) "A viral genome packaging ring-ATPase is a flexibly coordinated pentamer." Nat Commun. 12(1):6548. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-26800-z.
- Stekas B, Yeo S, Troitskaia A, Honda M, Sho S, Spies M, Chemla YR. (2021) "Switch-like control of helicase processivity by single-stranded DNA binding protein." Elife 10:e60515.
- Rhine K, Makurath MA, Liu J, Skanchy S, Lopez C, Catalan KF, Ma Y, Fare CM, Shorter J, Ha T, Chemla YR, Myong S. (2020) "ALS/FTLD-Linked Mutations in FUS Glycine Residues Cause Accelerated Gelation and Reduced Interactions with Wild-Type FUS." Mol Cell. 80(4):666-681.e8.
- Mitra J, Makurath MA, Ngo TTM, Troitskaia A, Chemla YR, Ha T. (2019) "Extreme mechanical diversity of human telomeric DNA revealed by fluorescence-force spectroscopy." Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 116(17):8350-8359
- Makurath MA, Whitley KD, Nguyen B, Lohman TM, Chemla YR. (2019) "Regulation of Rep helicase unwinding by an auto-inhibitory subdomain." Nucleic Acids Res. 47(5):2523-2532.
- Whitley K.D., Comstock M.J., Chemla Y.R. (2018) "Ultrashort Nucleic Acid Duplexes Exhibit Long Wormlike Chain Behavior with Force-Dependent Edge Effects" Phys. Rev. Lett. 120, 068102
- Whitley K.D., Comstock M.J., Chemla Y.R. (2017) "Elasticity of the transition state for oligonucleotide hybridization." Nucleic Acids Res. 45(2):547-555.
- Suksombat S., Khafizov R., Kozlov A.G., Lohman T.M., Chemla Y.R. (2015) "Structural dynamics of E. coli single-stranded DNA binding protein reveal DNA wrapping and unwrapping pathways." eLife, 4:e08193
- Comstock M.J., Whitley K.D., Jia H., Sokoloski J., Lohman T.M., Ha T., Chemla Y.R. (2015) "Direct observation of structure-function relationship in a nucleic acid-processing enzyme" Science 348(6232):352-354
- Arslan S., Khafizov R., Thomas C.D., Chemla Y.R., Ha T. (2015) "Engineering of a superhelicase through conformational control" Science 348(6232):344-347
- Mears, P.J., Koirala, S., Rao, C.V., Golding, I., Chemla, Y.R. (2014) "Escherichia coli swimming is robust against variations in flagellar number" eLife, 3:e01916
- Qi, Z., Pugh, R., Spies. M., Chemla, Y.R. (2013) "Sequence-Dependent Base-Pair Stepping Dynamics in XPD Helicase Unwinding" eLife, 2:e00334
- Kottadiel, V.I., Rao, V.B., Chemla, Y.R. (2012) "The dynamic pause-unpackaging state, an off-translocation recovery state of a DNA packaging motor from bacteriophage T4", PNAS 109(49):20000-5
- Min, T.L., Mears, P.J., Golding, I., and Chemla, Y.R. (2012) "Chemotactic adaptation kinetics of individual Escherichia coli cells", PNAS, 109(25):9869-74
- Comstock, M.J., Ha, T., Chemla, Y.R. (2011) "Ultrahigh-resolution optical trap with single-fluorophore sensitivity" Nature Methods. 8(4):335-40
- Min, T.L. Mears, P.J., Chubiz, L.M., Rao, C.V., Golding, I., Chemla, Y.R., (2009) "High-resolution, long-term characterization of bacterial motility using optical tweezers" Nature Methods. 6(11):831-835
- American Physical Society Fellow (2020)
- Dean's Award for Excellence in Research, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (2016)
- University of Illinois Willett Faculty Scholar Award (2015)
- Center for Advanced Study (2012)
- Sloan Research Fellowship (2010)
- NSF CAREER Award (2009)
- Career Awards at the Scientific Interface (CASI), Burroughs-Wellcome Fund (2005)
Recent Courses Taught
- PHYS 102 - College Physics: E&M & Modern
- PHYS 110 - Physics Careers
- PHYS 211 - University Physics: Mechanics
- PHYS 427 - Thermal & Statistical Physics