Colwell, UMD Researchers Work to Finish 15-year Cholera Study

Tue Mar 03, 2015

Rita Colwell, a Distinguished University Professor of cell biology and molecular genetics with an appointment in UMIACS, and a team of UMD researchers are featured in a story in the Diamondback student newspaper about their efforts to complete a 15-year study on ways to prevent cholera.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will be completed next year, and its findings will be applied to the team’s work in Africa to fight the disease.

Colwell has studied cholera for more than 40 years, looking at satellite data, gene sequencing and easily adaptable means of water filtration in areas where large amounts of Vibrio cholerae bacteria are present in water.

“Cholera occurs every year, year after year in Bangladesh and poor countries where the sanitation is not good and access to safe water is limited,” Colwell said. “Our hypothesis — because there’s always a spring peak and a fall peak in cholera — was an association with plankton.”

While traditional means of filtration are too expensive or difficult to bring to villagers in Bangladesh, university researchers found a solution in a popularly available item: the cloth from saris, traditional garments in the country.

Using sari cloth for filtration does not remove all the bacteria from the water, but it removes enough to keep many people from getting sick. It also helps take other particulates, to which bacteria and viruses attach, out of the water, Colwell said.

In addition to their work in Bangladesh, Colwell and her university colleagues have done cholera research in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Peru, Haiti and other countries around the world. Researchers have been sequencing the genomes of the bacteria collected in Bangladesh and elsewhere from 2004 to 2014 and are now in the process of sequencing 200 additional strains of the bacterium, Colwell said.

Read more here.
Learn more about Colwell's work in this video.