New faculty profile: Kerri Coon studies insect-microbe interactions

Kerri Coon joined the faculty in the Department of Entomology as an assistant professor in January 2019.

What is your background?
I grew up in Springfield, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. I have a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of Georgia and a B.S. in biology from the University of Virginia. Before joining CALS, I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin.

How did you get into your field of research?
A bit by accident, actually. Believe it or not, I started my Ph.D. in entomology with an idea for a project on mosquitoes–but also with a fear of insects! Over the next five years, I developed a new passion for these incredibly diverse little creatures and a sense of belonging with the community that studies them. It’s a great reminder for students especially—follow your curiosity and keep an open mind. You never know where you’ll end up!

What is the main goal of your current research program?
My research focuses on insect-microbe interactions, in particular those between mosquitoes and their gut bacteria. We use a combination of experimental and genomic approaches to tease apart the mechanisms by which bacteria regulate fundamental processes in their mosquito hosts—from mosquito development and reproduction to their ability to transmit disease-causing agents to humans and other mammals.

What was your first visit to campus like?
Cold and snowy, but what I remember most is how incredibly warm and friendly everyone was.

What are you most enjoying so far about working here?
UW–Madison is a vibrant university in a vibrant city. There are seemingly boundless opportunities to meet new people, share ideas, and gain fresh perspectives on my research.

What is your favorite place on campus?
The Babcock Hall Dairy Store, although I’m looking forward to checking out the Union Terrace when it’s warmer outside.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea?
Absolutely! My ultimate hope is that by understanding the basic biology of disease vectors we can better understand how to control them, both here in Wisconsin and throughout the rest of the world.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
First, we almost exclusively think of mosquitoes as obnoxious biters and disease carriers. But, most species of mosquitoes (there are ~3,500) are not known to transmit pathogens and some have even evolved to be nonbiting! Second, while many factors contribute to the attractiveness of humans to mosquitoes, the composition of your skin microbiota may be part of the reason why you tend to get more mosquito bites than your friends.

What are your hobbies and other interests?
I enjoy good food, live music, and spending time with my cats and dog.