Yiliang Ding

2024 United Kingdom Award Finalist — Faculty

Yiliang Ding

Current Position:
Group Leader

John Innes Centre

Molecular & Cellular Biology

Recognized for: Developing innovative methods for profiling RNA structures in living cells, delivering insights into the functional roles of RNA structures in gene regulation. This pioneering research provides a springboard for the global use of RNA structure-guided molecular designs in therapeutics and crop improvement.


Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: RNA Biology, RNA Structure, Gene Regulation, Plant Biology

Previous Positions: 

  • BSc, Shanghai Jiaotong University, China
  • PhD, John Innes Centre (awarded by the University of East Anglia)
  • Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Dundee
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Pennsylvania State University, USA

Research Summary:

RNA has long been known as a crucial part of the central dogma of cellular biology, where DNA is transcribed into RNA and then translated into protein. However, less is known about the complex structures into which RNA can be formed and the importance of these structures in regulating diverse biological processes. RNA biologist Yiliang Ding, PhD, has emerged as a pioneer in the field of RNA structure, demonstrating the universality of RNA structure-mediated regulatory mechanisms across fields and organisms, and sharing her novel technologies widely among the global scientific community.

Ding has significantly contributed to the field of RNA biology by developing novel chemical profiling methods to determine RNA structures in living cells. These advances have unveiled regulatory mechanisms across various biological processes, including RNA degradation, mRNA translation, and mRNA maturation, a prerequisite for mRNA to be translated into protein. Ding has also revealed the existence of three-dimensional structures, called RNA G-quadruplex structures, in eukaryotic organisms and has shown that they serve as a molecular marker to facilitate plant adaptation to the cold during evolution. Her work has led to the development of a single-molecule RNA structure profiling method and has revealed the functional importance of RNA structure in the regulation of long noncoding RNAs. Ding’s technologies have been used to explain the role of RNA structure in targeted RNA degradation, which has been applied in RNA-based antiviral therapies for SARS-CoV-2 and Beet Yellow Virus. These breakthroughs pave the way for exploiting RNA structures to develop therapeutics and improve crop resilience, offering wide-reaching societal benefits.

"My research is to unveil the functional roles of RNA structure in living cells as the key to RNA therapeutics and crop improvement. Being honoured with this award recognises our efforts and stimulates a new era of RNA-based gene regulations."

Key Publications: 

  1. M. Yang, H.C. Woolfenden, Y. Zhang, X. Fang, Q. Liu, M.L. Vigh, J. Cheema, X. Yang, M. Norris, S. Yu, A. Carbonell, P. Brodersen, J. Wang, Y. Ding. Intact RNA structurome reveals mRNA structure-mediated regulation of miRNA cleavage in vivo.  Nucleic Acids Research, 2020.
  2. Z. Liu, Q. Liu, X. Yang, Y. Zhang, M. Norris, X. Chen, J. Cheema, H. Zhang, Y. Ding. In vivo nuclear RNA structurome reveals RNA-structure regulation of mRNA processing in plantsGenome Biolology, 2021.
  3. M. Yang, P. Zhu, J. Cheema, R. Bloomer, P. Mikulski, Q. Liu, Y. Zhang, C. Dean, Y. Ding. In vivo single-molecule analysis reveals COOLAIR RNA structural diversityNature, 2022. 
  4. X. Yang, H. Yu, S. Duncan, Y. Zhang, J. Cheema, H. Liu, J.B. Miller, J. Zhang, C.K. Kwok, H. Zhang, Y. Ding. RNA G-quadruplex structure contributes to cold adaptation in plantsNature Communications, 2022.

Other Honors: 

2012  Fellowship, RNA Society
2014  Inventor Incentive Award, Pennsylvania State University
2014  David Phillips Fellowship, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
2015  European Research Council Starting Grant Award
2021  European Research Council Proof of Concept Grant Award
2023  European Research Council Consolidator Grant Award


In the Media: 

Crop Production MagazineRNA Technology Gets Funding to Tackle Beet Virus

Science MagazineHow Environmental Changes Affect the Shapes of RNA in Living Cells

Nature Review Molecular Cell BiologyStructural Variation in COOLAIR lncRNA Driven by Cold

Phys.orgResearch Uncovers First Evidence of RNA-triggered Phase Separation

EurekAlert!New Tool Developed for Profiling Critical Regulatory Structures of RNA Molecules

NatureThe Elaborate Architecture of RNA

John Innes Centre BlogG-quadruplexe Atlas Shapes the Future for RNA Researchers

John Innes Centre NewsRNA Findings Offer New Perspective for Breeding Polyploid Crops