Research Group in PoL Aims to Reveal the Energy Map for Life

Portrait Xingbo Yang

Dr. Xingbo Yang started the research group for ‘Bioenergetics of Self-Organization’ in the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life (PoL), Dresden, Germany, in February 2023. His group is mapping the energy costs and energy distribution within a cell. Living cells are natural machines, orchestrating energy to build and sustain life. Just as artificial machines require energy to function efficiently, cells too must systematically manage their energy. Disruptions in this process can lead to a wide range of diseases, from infertility to cancer. The group aims to understand the complex system of energy distribution within cells and their findings have the potential to facilitate the design of new therapies. 

A cell, the fundamental unit of life, is a machine on a smaller scale. It self-organizes and consumes energy to build its own cellular structures and to sustain vital cellular processes. This orchestrated distribution of energy in space and time keeps the cell alive and consequently, our body functioning. Defects in the energy distribution and usage in the cell can lead to pathological conditions, such as infertility or cancer. 

In order to develop therapies for such diseases, a mapping of the energy flux and its usage in the cell is vital. The cell regulates itself and controls its own energy distribution, which remains largely unknown. Yang's group aims to map out the energy distribution by measuring the energetic costs of key cellular processes and to explore the consequences of perturbed energy flows in health and diseases. “Our research can shed light on, for example, how defects in energy metabolism in egg cells contribute to human infertility”, says Dr. Xingbo Yang.

His group will use a unique technique developed in the lab to image the energy flux with single-cell and even subcellular resolution to build the bioenergy map. In addition to the imaging measurements, they will develop biophysical models to quantitatively describe the energy distribution within the cell. 

The research at Yang’s group is highly interdisciplinary and requires the combination of biology with physics, and theory with experiment. Searching for the proper resources to accomplish his goal, Dr. Yang landed in PoL, which offers the necessary settings to allow this research, a rich environment of Biophysics in Dresden. "Dr. Xingbo Yang's unique blend of physics and biology is a tremendous asset to PoL. His pioneering research in understanding cellular energy will undoubtedly contribute to unveiling the secrets of life's self-organization and the development of novel therapies.", says Otger Càmpas, the managing director of PoL.

Dr. Xingbo Yang leads the research group ‘Bioenergetics of Self-Organization’. The success of his research will not only help us understand the fundamental principles of the self-organization of living matter but will also provide insights into how energetic defects play a role in diseases such as infertility, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr. Xingbo Yang was trained as a theoretical physicist before he dived deep into experimental biology. He obtained his Ph.D. in Physics from Syracuse University in the United States in 2015. After that, he conducted postdoctoral research in the Physics Department at Northwestern University from 2015 to 2017 and the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University from 2017 to 2022. 

About the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life
Physics of Life (PoL) is one of three clusters of excellence at TU Dresden. It focuses on identifying the physical laws underlying the organization of life in molecules, cells, and tissues. In the cluster, scientists from physics, biology, and computer science investigate how active matter in cells and tissues organizes itself into given structures and gives rise to life. PoL is funded by the DFG within the framework of the Excellence Strategy. It is a cooperation between scientists of the TU Dresden and research institutions of the DRESDEN-concept network, such as the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS), the Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research (IPF) and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).

Dr. Kaori Nakashima
Science Communication Officer
Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life
Tel.: +49 351 463-41517