Yann Robert Chemla
Primary Research Area
- Biological Physics
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. As an experimentalist in applied superconductivity, he developed an interest in biology through his study of magnetotactic bacteria with a superconducting magnetometer (Chemla et al., Biophys J., 1999), and the development of a biosensor based on functionalized magnetic nanoparticles (Chemla et al., PNAS, 2000). Prof. Chemla made the “leap” to biophysics as a postdoctoral fellow, moving down the hall to Prof. Carlos Bustamante’s laboratory at Berkeley. There, he learned the techniques of single-molecule manipulation and used an optical trap to study viral DNA packaging (Chemla et al., Cell, 2005). In 2005, he received one of the prestigious Career Awards at the Scientific Interface (CASI) from the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund. He joined the Department of Physics at Illinois in January 2007.
The cell is a factory of complex molecular structures that carry out specialized mechanical tasks and that behave remarkably like machines. Molecular motors, as they are called, are involved in such diverse processes as replicating the genome or transporting cargo across the cell, typically moving in discrete steps along a track — actin, microtubules, or DNA itself — converting chemical energy into mechanical work. A broad area of interest in my laboratory will be understanding the mechanism by which these molecular machines operate, and specifically, the process of mechano-chemical conversion.
Biophysical techniques that can detect such processes at the level of a single molecule are extremely powerful, since they are not subject to the averaging artifacts of traditional bulk biochemical methods. Optical traps, or “optical tweezers,” which utilize the force generated by focused laser light to manipulate microscopic objects, have been used extensively to measure the movements and forces exerted by individual molecular motors.
Recently, advances to this technique have made it possible to resolve motions on the scale of a single base pair of DNA, or only 3.4Å (see for example, Moffitt et al., PNAS, 2006). These high-resolution optical trapping techniques have the potential to reveal, for the first time, the stepwise motions of a host of molecular motors that translocate along or interact with nucleic acids and proteins. Access to this length scale should lead to a more detailed and refined understanding of many fundamental processes.
Students in my laboratory will work on all facets of research in this area: design and construction of instrumentation, development of biological systems for single-molecule manipulation, and quantitative analysis and modeling of collected data. Interested students and postdocs with backgrounds in physics, biology, chemistry, or related fields are welcome to contact me.
Chapters in Books
- Whitley K.D., Comstock M.J., Chemla Y.R. (2017) High-Resolution Optical Tweezers Combined With Single-Molecule Confocal Microscopy. In Single-molecule Enzymology: Nanomechanical Manipulation and Hybrid Methods, Methods in Enzymology, Vol. 582 (Maria Spies & Yann R. Chemla Ed.), Elsevier
- Whitley K.D., Comstock M.J., Chemla Y.R. (2016) "High-Resolution Fleezers: Dual-trap Optical Tweezers Combined with Single-Molecule Fluorescence Detection" in Optical Tweezers (Arne Gennerich Ed.), Springer.
- Chemla, Y.R., Smith, D.E., Single-molecule studies of viral DNA packaging. In Viral Molecular Machines (V. Rao & M. Rossman, eds.) Springer, New York, NY (2011)
- C. Bustamante, Y.R. Chemla, J.R. Moffitt. High resolution dual trap optical tweezers with differential detection. In Single Molecule Techniques: A Laboratory Manual (P. Selvin & T.J. Ha, eds.) Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Woodbury NY. (2007)
Selected Articles in Journals
- Bustamante CJ, Chemla YR, Liu S, Wang MD. (2021) "Optical tweezers in single-molecule biophysics" Nature Reviews Methods Primers 1:25
- 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.
- Tjioe, M., Shukla, S., Vaidya, R., Troitskaia, A., Bookwalter, C.S., Trybus, K.M., Chemla, Y.R., Selvin, P.R. (2019) "Multiple kinesins induce tension for smooth cargo transport." eLife. 8:e50974.
- 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
- Perlova T, Gruebele M, Chemla YR. (2019) "Blue light is a universal signal for Escherichia coli chemoreceptors." J Bacteriol. pii: e00762-18
- 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.
- Ma W, Whitley KD, Chemla YR, Luthey-Schulten Z, Schulten K. (2018) "Free energy simulations reveal molecular mechanism for functional switch of a DNA helicase." Elife. pii: e34186.
- 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
- 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 (2010)
- 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
Semesters Ranked Excellent Teacher by Students
|Spring 2020||PHYS 102|
|Fall 2018||PHYS 211|
|Spring 2017||PHYS 427|
|Fall 2016||PHYS 427|
|Spring 2012||PHYS 427|