Terry Hwa, Ph.D.

Presidential Chair Professor, Department of Physics, Division of Physical Sciences, Section of Molecular Biology, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, San DiegoTerry Hwa’s website

PriME Project: From Bacterial Growth Physiology to Microbial Ecology

The proposed research is an integral part of the Simons Collaboration on Theory of Microbial Ecosystems. It aims to establish the quantitative, mechanistic foundation of bacterial growth and interaction on and around particles representative of ‘marine snow’ widely found in the ocean. The outcome of this research will provide solid grounds for quantitative studies of interesting ecological effects concerning competition, collaboration and trade-offs in fluctuating marine environments. This overall objective will be accomplished by carrying out three related but stand-alone projects: In Project 1, we will establish simple, reliable kinetic models of metabolism for selected marine species and their combinations in defined nutrient environments derived from common substances found on marine snow. In Project 2, we will develop a computational platform capturing the formation and growth of biofilms on surfaces of the particles mimicking marine snow. In Project 3, we will formulate a theory describing the dynamic of bacteria in fluids surrounding these particles for different states of particle consumption and construct concrete models of bacteria dispersal, attachment and inter-particle interaction, thereby providing a quantitative basis linking the behaviors of bacteria on particles (Project 2) to ecology at the many-particle scale. The final output of each project is a set of theoretical models, but a large share of the work is to collect the quantitative data needed to construct the models.

Terry Hwa is the Presidential Chair Professor of Physics with joint appointment in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. He received his B.S. in physics, biology and electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1986 and his Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1990. He pursued postdoctoral research in statistical physics at Harvard University from 1990 to 1993 and was a long-term member of the Institute for Advanced Study from 1993 to 1994. He joined the physics faculty at UC San Diego in 1995 where he has been ever since. Hwa is an active proponent of interdisciplinary research and the inaugural co-director of the graduate program in quantitative biology at UC San Diego. He is a recipient of numerous awards including the Sloan and Guggenheim fellowships, and he is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Microbiology.

Hwa’s research at UC San Diego was initially in theoretical biological physics, covering computational biology, molecular biophysics and the development of models of combinatorial transcriptional and post-transcriptional control. In 2003, he started a wet lab which quickly focused on bacterial growth physiology. His lab established a principle of proteome resource allocation based on a number of ‘growth laws,’ leading to a quantitative theory of growth control which accurately predicts bacterial growth and gene expression for a variety of environmental and genetic perturbations. In this research, Hwa and his lab will extend their physiological approach to characterize bacterial species singly and in consortium, so as to uncover underlying principles governing the dynamics of microbial communities.

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