New faculty profile: David Hershey explores how bacteria colonize surfaces

David Hershey joined the UW–Madison faculty in January 2021 as an assistant professor in the Department of Bacteriology.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa.

What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
I earned a B.S. in biochemistry from Iowa State University and a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of California, Berkeley. Most recently, I was a postdoc at the University of Chicago.

How did you get into your field of research?
When I first started in a research laboratory I was actually studying plants. After about a year, I began working on a project that focused on how molecules released by plant roots affect bacteria in the soil. I became fascinated by how sophisticated bacteria are and how useful they can be for understanding molecular biology. I have studied bacterial cells ever since and have not looked back.

What are the main goals of your current research program?
My research aims to understand how bacteria colonize surfaces. In their natural environments, bacteria spend a good deal of time growing in association with some sort of solid substrate, and growing on a surface requires a dramatic reorganization of the bacterial cell. I work to understand how the process of colonizing a surface is controlled and how bacterial cells are remodeled for growth surfaces.

What attracted you to UW–Madison?
I attended college at a public, land-grant university in my home state of Iowa, and UW-Madison has a reputation as one of the best. I am honored to help provide other students with the same opportunity I had.

What was your first visit to campus like?
I first visited campus in February of 2020 to interview for my current position. I remember being pleasantly surprised by how warm and approachable everyone was. I was struck by how people who are so accomplished remain so down to earth.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
Bacteria are (mostly) good.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
Absolutely. In terms of my research, bacteria have a profound impact on everyone’s lives. This is manifested not only on individual scales when it comes to health and wellbeing, but also on a macroeconomic scale in industrial and agricultural settings. I also view my role in supporting the university’s commitment to teaching and service as an important responsibility to the State of Wisconsin.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
You have about as many bacterial cells in your body as human cells.

What are your hobbies and other interests?
I enjoy spending time at home with my family. We like to cook new foods, work on home improvement projects and garden. I also like to spend time outdoors hiking, fishing and biking.