Skip to main content

Terry Hwa


Trained in theoretical physics, Terry entered biology initially to study genomics, biomolecular interactions and combinatorial gene regulation. He subsequently launched a microbiology wet-lab and developed a unique quantitative approach to study bacterial physiology. In the 2010s, the Hwa lab established a number of bacterial growth laws and formulated a principle of proteomic resource allocation. This line of studies culminated in a theory of bacterial growth control, quantitatively predicting bacterial behaviors and gene expression for a variety of environmental and genetic perturbations, elucidating a number of long-standing mysteries in microbiology. The Hwa lab is continuing to extend their physiological approach to characterize bacterial species singly and in consortium, to uncover underlying principles governing the spatiotemporal dynamics of microbial communities, and to apply these principles to synthetic biology applications.

Select Publications

  • M. Basan, T. Honda, D. Christodoulou, M. Hoerl, H. Okano, B.R. Taylor, J.M. Silverman, J.R. Williamson, T. Hwa, U. Sauer. “A universal tradeoff between growth and lag in fluctuating environments.” Nature 584: 470-474 (2020).
  • J. Cremer, T. Honda, Y. Tang, J. Wong-Ng, M. Vergassola, T. Hwa. “Chemotaxis as a navigation strategy to thrive in nutrient-replete environments.” Nature 575: 658:663 (2019).
  • W. Liu, J. Cremer, D. Li, T. Hwa, C. Liu. “An evolutionary stable strategy to colonize spatially extended habitats”. Nature 575: 665-668 (2019).
  • D.W. Erickson, S. Schink, V. Patsalo, J. R. Williamson, U. Gerland, T. Hwa. “A global resource allocation strategy governs growth transition kinetics of E. coli”, Nature 551: 119-123 (2017).
  • J. Cremer, M. Arnoldini, T. Hwa. “Effect of water flow and chemical environment on microbiota growth and composition in the human colon.” PNAS 114: 64538-64543 (2017).
  • M. Basan, S. Hui, Z. Zhang, Y. Shen, J.R. Williamson, T. Hwa. “Overflow metabolism in E. coli results from efficient proteome allocation”, Nature 528: 99-104 (2015).
  • J.B. Deris, M. Kim, Z. Zhang, H. Okano, R. Hermsen, A. Groisman, T. Hwa. "The innate growth bistability of antibiotic resistant bacteria". Science 342: 1237435 (2013).
  • M. Scott, C. W. Gunderson, E. Mateescu, Z. Zhang and T. Hwa “Interdependence of cell growth and gene expression: origins and consequences”, Science 330: 1099-1102 (2010).
  • E. Levine, T. Kuhlman, Z. Zhang, T. Hwa. “Quantitative Characteristics of Gene Regulation by small RNA”. PLoS Biology 5: e229 (2007).
  • N.E. Buchler, U. Gerland, T. Hwa. “On Schemes of Combinatorial Transcription Control”. PNAS 100: 5136-5141 (2003).


Terry Hwa is a Distinguished Professor and Presidential Chair in the Department of Physics, with joint appointment in the Section of Molecular Biology, Division of Biological Sciences. He received his B.Sc. from Stanford University, majoring in Physics, Biology, and Electrical Engineering, and Ph.D. from MIT with a thesis in theoretical and experimental physics. He joined the physics faculty at UCSD in 1995 and launched a microbiology biology wet-lab in the early 2000s, developing over time a unique quantitative approach to studying bacterial physiology. Terry initiated the Quantitative Biology Ph.D. Specialization Program at UCSD and is its director. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.