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David A. Sela

Associate Professor

The overarching goal of our research program is to better understand the means by which food promotes health. We seek solutions to chronic diseases primarily through preventative dietary and lifestyle adjustments. Our research involves sequence-based genomic approaches to investigate the microorganisms that assemble into various communities in and on the human body. These ecosystems are often collectively referred to as the human microbiome. In addition, we are determined to characterize mechanistic linkages between food and health emanating from host-microbial molecular interactions.

Current Research

Our group utilizes massively parallel DNA sequencing, and other high-throughput systems approaches to investigate molecular and physiological interactions at the human-microbial interface. We resolve the evolutionary history and relationships between our resident microbial commensals in addition to investigating the biological functional attributes of isolates and aggregate communities alike. Accordingly, we study the influences of dietary molecules on the community structure of various human microbiomes, and their effect of human health throughout development. Our model in this endeavor is milk’s role in influencing the composition and function of the infant gut microbial community. To this end, we seek partnerships with industrial and clinical partners in order to translate the scientific knowledge we learn in our research activities. 

Learn more at www.selalab.org/

Academic Background

  • BS State University of New York, New Paltz 2003
  • MS University of California, Davis 2006
  • PhD University of California, Davis 2010
  • Postdoctoral Training: Stanford Universirty
  • Postdoctoral Training: Foods for Health Institute, University of California, Davis

IALS Interview with David Sela

Professor Sela is an Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science, and a member of the Center for Bioactive Delivery and the Models to Medicine Center in IALS.

IALS: Hi David, it’s wonderful to have you here with us today. We have a few questions for you so everyone on campus can get to know you better. How long have you been at UMass Amherst? 

DS: As of today, I have been at UMass Amherst for a decade. I was thrilled to join the top ranked food science program with brilliant and accomplished faculty colleagues. I came and remained here primarily due to the collegiality in the department that was clear during my recruitment.

IALS: Where did you grow up?

DS: I have experienced several (metaphorical) lives to this point. I was born in New York City and attended high school in New Jersey near Princeton. I returned to New York for college and then spent a decade in California for grad school and postdoctoral training. I’m not sure that I ever “grew up”, and I suppose that I most closely identify with my time in California as formative in my life.

IALS: Does the love of science run in your family? 

DS: When my brother and I were old enough, my mother earned a master’s degree in biology to teach the subject in high school. I remember her enthusiasm for courses, and how her professors could be inspirational. Helping my mom collect insects for her entomology course is a core memory. My father was a civil engineer and often talked about applying scientific principles to achieve practical outcomes. As a child I was inspired by space exploration and what could be accomplished through collaboration. Our species has traveled to, walked on, and returned from the moon - and this is nothing short of amazing.

IALS: How long have you been teaching?

DS: Aside from my first year, I have been teaching ever since I joined the faculty at UMass.

IALS: What is more stressful, grant proposals, research, or teaching?

DS: Perhaps in typical academic fashion I find that there are stresses and rewards in all three endeavors. Grant proposals could be stressful as one is working with others to meet hard deadlines to fund my research and ultimately develop scientific careers. It could feel weighty at times. Research is more flexible, but as PI you are leading a heterogenous team that requires differentiated guidance and mentorship as well as navigating institutional needs. Research is fundamentally a human endeavor, so it is never fully devoid of an emotional engagement with one’s work regardless of how well we promote dispassionate objectivity. I find teaching to be somewhat of a mindfulness practice. For the hour that I am in class things such as grant deadlines and experimental hiccups do not exist. It is me within the class community and nothing else matters. Although it could be stressful at times when it comes to managing one’s time in context of leading a lab.

IALS: Assuming your research is widely successful, how will it impact society?

DS: I have been fortunate to be part of a team throughout my career that sought to translate research. This includes our work on human milk interactions with the infant gut microbiome that contributed to intellectual property and ultimately startup companies. It has been gratifying to meet mothers who shared how grateful for products that resulted from our research, without knowing my role in its inception. My lab is continuing to conduct translational research to benefit infant and maternal health through nutrition, as well as other projects to advance the human condition.

IALS: Who do you admire and why?

DS: I admire many whom I have crossed paths with including mentors and role models. I find myself most drawn to people who experience the ups and downs of life with consistency and positivity.

IALS: What are your interests when you are not a scientist? 

DS: I am happy that my career is a big part of my life, and it is not the only aspect of my experience that I identify with. I enjoy traveling as it provides new perspectives, making new friends and hearing their stories. Cooking and enjoying food has always been a big part of my life. It is not by accident that I work in food and nutrition!

IALS: Thank you so much David.  David will be hosting a seminar on October 3, 2023 in LSL 340 at 2:00pm on “Human milk guides the structure/function of the infant microbiome: research and translation opportunities in food science” please join us.

We would like to thank David Sela for his time and look forward to hearing from our next faculty highlight, a new faculty member, Anna Green, Assistant Professor, Manning College of Information and Computer Science in October.

Contact Info

Department of Food Science
340 Chenoweth Laboratory
Amherst, MA 01003

(413) 545-1010