Bacteria use chemotaxis signaling pathways to sense environmental changes. Escherichia coli chemotaxis system represents an ideal model that illustrates fundamental principles of biological signaling processes. Chemoreceptors are crucial signaling proteins that mediate taxis toward a wide range of chemoeffectors. Recently, in deep study of the biochemical and structural features of chemoreceptors, the organization of higher-order clusters in native cells, and the signal transduction mechanisms related to the on-off signal output provides us with general insights to understand how chemotaxis performs high sensitivity, precise adaptation, signal amplification, and wide dynamic range. Along with the increasing knowledge, bacterial chemoreceptors can be engineered to sense novel chemoeffectors, which has extensive applications in therapeutics and industry. Here we mainly review recent advances in the E. coli chemotaxis system involving structure and organization of chemoreceptors, discovery, design, and characterization of chemoeffectors, and signal recognition and transduction mechanisms. Possible strategies for changing the specificity of bacterial chemoreceptors to sense novel chemoeffectors are also discussed.