Yaowen Wu

Wallenberg Academy Fellow 2016

Natural Sciences

Dr. Yaowen Wu  
Max Planck Institute, Dortmund

Nominated by
Umeå University

Recycling in the cell – how does it work?

Various components of living cells, such as proteins and organelles, suffer continuous damage. The resulting waste is collected by autophagosomes. Wallenberg Academy Fellow Yaowen Wu will study how, and in what circumstances, autophagosomes are formed. This process is linked to cancer, neurodegenerative and infectious diseases.

Our cells are good at recycling material and cleaning up, which keep the cells in a good order. For example, when proteins aggregate wrongly or pathogens invade hosts, things called autophagosomes deal with them. These autophagosomes then join up with the cell’s recycling center, the lysosome, which breaks down the waste into building blocks that can be re-used in the manufacture of new proteins. This process is termed autophagy, meaning self-eating.

The discovery of genes that are involved in autophagy was rewarded with 2016’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, but researchers still know very little about why and how autophagosomes are formed. To be able to observe the rapid process that takes place inside the cell, Dr. Yaowen Wu from the Max Planck Institute in Dortmund will equip proteins that are vital to the functioning of autophagosomes with a type of switch, so he can turn their activity on or off. Using these, he will then observe the formation of autophagosomes and investigate how this process is governed naturally.

The aim is to obtain basic knowledge of how autophagosomes function and also to understand why disruptions to autophagy can contribute to cancer, neurodegeneration and infectious diseases. As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, Yaowen Wu will work at Umeå University.

Photo: Marcus Marcetic