A recombinant DNA approach has been used to study intracellular signaling in the bacterial sensing system. The Escherichia coli cheY gene, whose function is unknown, has been subcloned behind the synthetic inducible tac promoter. The resulting plasmid directs the synthesis of the Y protein in response to isopropyl beta-D-thiogalactoside, independent of its usual operon control. When this construct was introduced into wild-type and mutant cells, the Y protein caused a clockwise rotational bias in the flagellar motors. This effect was observed even in heavily biased counterclockwise strains lacking most of the central chemotaxis processing genes. The results show that the Y protein has a direct influence on flagellar rotation not requiring other processing genes of the sensing system. The Y protein appears to bind directly to a part of the flagellar motor, probably the flaA gene product, and it is probably the key element in biasing the motor toward the clockwise rotational direction.