Rita Colwell

Distinguished University Professor
3103 Biomolecular Sciences Building
(301) 405-9550
Ph.D., University of Washington (Oceanography)
Special Awards/Honors: 
2006 National Medal of Science (given by President George W. Bush), 2010 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate, AAAS, President, American Society for Microbiology (ASM), President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Maryland’s Top 100 Women, Maryland’s Top 100 Women Hall of Fame, Elected Member National Academy of Sciences, Foreign Fellow of The Royal Society of Canada, Fellow AAAS, AIBS Outstanding Service Award, Central Intelligence Agency Civilian Recognition Award, National Women’s Hall of Fame, “The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star,” Japan Society for Promotion of Science , President-Elect, American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), President, American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), AAUW Award (American Association of University Women), and several others.

Rita Colwell is a Distinguished University Professor both at the University of Maryland at College Park and at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, senior advisor and chairman emeritus at Canon US Life Sciences, Inc., and president and CEO of CosmosID, Inc.

Her research interests are focused on global infectious diseases, water, and health. Colwell is currently developing an international network to address emerging infectious diseases and water issues, including safe drinking water for both the developed and developing world.

Colwell served as the eleventh director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 1998 to 2004. In her capacity as NSF director, she served as co-chair of the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council.

One of Colwell's major interests is K-12 science and mathematics education, graduate science and engineering education, and the increased participation of women and minorities in science and engineering.

She has held many advisory positions in the U.S. government, nonprofit science policy organizations, and private foundations, as well as in the international scientific research community. Colwell is a nationally-respected scientist and educator, and has authored or co-authored 17 books and more than 750 scientific publications. She produced the award-winning film, "Invisible Seas," and has served on editorial boards of numerous scientific journals.

Before joining NSF, Colwell was president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and a professor of microbiology and biotechnology. She was also a member of the National Science Board from 1984 to 1990.

Colwell has previously served as chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology, as well as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, the Sigma Xi National Science Honorary Society, and the International Union of Microbiological Societies. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, the Royal Society of Canada, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. She is immediate past-president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Colwell has been awarded 55 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education, including her alma mater, Purdue University. She is the recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, bestowed by the Emperor of Japan; the 2006 National Medal of Science, awarded by the President of the United States; and the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize, awarded by the King of Sweden.

Colwell is an honorary member of the microbiological societies of the UK, Australia, France, Israel, Bangladesh, Czechoslovakia, Royal Irish Academy and the U.S. She has held several honorary professorships, including the University of Queensland, Australia. A geological site in Antarctica, called Colwell Massif, has been named in recognition of her work in the polar regions.

Go here to view Colwell‘s most recent academic publications.



Alam M, Sadique A, Bhuiyan NA, Nair GB, Siddique AK, Sack DA, Ahsan S, Huq A, Sack RB, Colwell RR et al..  2006.  Effect of transport at ambient temperature on detection and isolation of Vibrio cholerae from environmental samples. Applied and environmental microbiology. 72(3):2185-2190.

Mantri CK, Mohapatra SS, Ramamurthy T, Ghosh R, Colwell RR, Singh DV.  2006.  Septaplex PCR assay for rapid identification of Vibrio cholerae including detection of virulence and int SXT genes. FEMS Microbiology Letters. 265(2):208-214.

Huq A, Grim C, Colwell RR, Nair BG.  2006.  Detection, Isolation, and Identification of Vibrio cholerae from the Environment. Current Protocols in MicrobiologyCurrent Protocols in Microbiology.

Alam M, Hasan NA, Sadique A, Bhuiyan NA, Ahmed KU, Nusrin S, Nair BG, Siddique AK, Sack BR, Sack DA et al..  2006.  Seasonal Cholera Caused by Vibrio Cholerae Serogroups O1 and O139 in the Coastal Aquatic Environment of Bangladesh. Applied and Environmental MicrobiologyAppl. Environ. Microbiol.. 72(6):4096-4104.

Alam M, Sultana M, Nair BG, Sack BR, Sack DA, Siddique AK, Ali A, Huq A, Colwell RR.  2006.  Toxigenic Vibrio Cholerae in the Aquatic Environment of Mathbaria, Bangladesh. Applied and Environmental MicrobiologyAppl. Environ. Microbiol.. 72(4):2849-2855.

Colwell RR.  2006.  Microbial diversity in the era of genomics. SYMPOSIA-SOCIETY FOR GENERAL MICROBIOLOGY. 66:1-1.


Huq A, Sack BR, Nizam A, Longini IM, Nair BG, Ali A, Morris GJ, Khan HMN, Siddique KA, Yunus M et al..  2005.  Critical Factors Influencing the Occurrence of Vibrio Cholerae in the Environment of Bangladesh. Applied and Environmental MicrobiologyAppl. Environ. Microbiol.. 71(8):4645-4654.

Louis VR, Gillespie IA, O'Brien SJ, Russek-Cohen E, Pearson AD, Colwell RR.  2005.  Temperature-Driven Campylobacter Seasonality in England and Wales. Applied and Environmental MicrobiologyAppl. Environ. Microbiol.. 71(1):85-92.

Pruzzo C, Huq A, Colwell RR, Donelli G.  2005.  Pathogenic Vibrio species in the marine and estuarine environment. Oceans and health: pathogens in the marine environment.

Colwell RR.  2005.  Global microbial ecology of Vibrio cholerae. Oceans and health: pathogens in the marine environment.


Binsztein N, Costagliola MC, Pichel M, Jurquiza V, Ramírez FC, Akselman R, Vacchino M, Huq A, Colwell RR.  2004.  Viable but Nonculturable Vibrio Cholerae O1 in the Aquatic Environment of Argentina. Applied and Environmental MicrobiologyAppl. Environ. Microbiol.. 70(12):7481-7486.

Islam MS, Tasmin R, s l a m Khan SI, Bakht HBM, a y a t Mahmood ZH, i a u r Rahman MZ, m i n Bhuiyan NA, Nishibuchi M, a l a k r i s h Nair GB, r a d l e y Sack RB et al..  2004.  Pandemic strains of O3:K6 Vibrio parahaemolyticus in the aquatic environment of Bangladesh. Canadian Journal of Microbiology. 50(10):827-834.

Gil AI, Louis VR, Rivera ING, Lipp E, Huq A, Lanata CF, Taylor DN, Russek‐Cohen E, Choopun N, Sack BR et al..  2004.  Occurrence and distribution of Vibrio cholerae in the coastal environment of Peru. Environmental Microbiology. 6(7):699-706.

Espeland EM, Lipp EK, Huq A, Colwell RR.  2004.  Polylysogeny and prophage induction by secondary infection in Vibrio cholerae. Environmental Microbiology. 6(7):760-763.

Snellman EA, Colwell RR.  2004.  Acinetobacter lipases: molecular biology, biochemical properties and biotechnological potential. Journal of industrial microbiology & biotechnology. 31(9):391-400.

Islam MS, Talukder KA, Khan NH, Mahmud ZH, Rahman MZ, Nair GB, Siddique AKM, Yunus M, Sack DA, Sack RB et al..  2004.  Variation of toxigenic Vibrio cholerae O1 in the aquatic environment of Bangladesh and its correlation with the clinical strains. Microbiology and immunology. 48(10):773-777.

Colwell RR, Faruque SM, Nair GB.  2004.  Free-Living to Freewheeling: The Evolution of Vibrio cholerae from Innocence to Infamy. Infectious Disease and Host-Pathogen EvolutionInfectious Disease and Host-Pathogen Evolution.

Colwell RR.  2004.  A Tangled Bank: Reflections on the Tree of Life and Human Health. Assembling the Tree of LifeAssembling the Tree of Life.


Pruzzo C, Tarsi R, Del Mar Lleò M, Signoretto C, Zampini M, Pane L, Colwell RR, Canepari P.  2003.  Persistence of adhesive properties in Vibrio cholerae after long‐term exposure to sea water. Environmental Microbiology. 5(10):850-858.

Colwell RR.  2003.  From terabytes to insights. Communications of the ACM. 46(7):25-27.

Lipp EK, Rivera ING, Gil AI, Espeland EM, Choopun N, Louis VR, Russek-Cohen E, Huq A, Colwell RR.  2003.  Direct Detection of Vibrio Cholerae and ctxA in Peruvian Coastal Water and Plankton by PCR. Applied and Environmental MicrobiologyAppl. Environ. Microbiol.. 69(6):3676-3680.

Louis VR, Russek-Cohen E, Choopun N, Rivera ING, Gangle B, Jiang SC, Rubin A, Patz JA, Huq A, Colwell RR.  2003.  Predictability of Vibrio Cholerae in Chesapeake Bay. Applied and Environmental MicrobiologyAppl. Environ. Microbiol.. 69(5):2773-2785.

Talledo M, Rivera ING, Lipp EK, Neale A, Karaolis D, Huq A, Colwell RR.  2003.  Characterization of a Vibrio cholerae phage isolated from the coastal water of Peru. Environmental Microbiology. 5(5):350-354.

Faruque SM, Sack DA, Sack BR, Colwell RR, Takeda Y, Nair BG.  2003.  Emergence and Evolution of Vibrio Cholerae O139. Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesPNAS. 100(3):1304-1309.

Colwell RR, Huq A, Islam SM, Aziz KMA, Yunus M, Khan HN, Mahmud A, Sack BR, Nair GB, Chakraborty J et al..  2003.  Reduction of Cholera in Bangladeshi Villages by Simple Filtration. Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesPNAS. 100(3):1051-1055.

Faruque SM, Kamruzzaman M, Meraj IM, Chowdhury N, Nair BG, Sack BR, Colwell RR, Sack DA.  2003.  Pathogenic Potential of Environmental Vibrio Cholerae Strains Carrying Genetic Variants of the Toxin-Coregulated Pilus Pathogenicity Island. Infection and ImmunityInfect. Immun.. 71(2):1020-1025.

Sack BR, Siddique KA, Longini IM, Nizam A, Yunus M, Islam SM, Morris J, Ali A, Huq A, Nair BG et al..  2003.  A 4-Year Study of the Epidemiology of Vibrio Cholerae in Four Rural Areas of Bangladesh. Journal of Infectious DiseasesJ Infect Dis.. 187(1):96-101.


Zo YG, Rivera ING, Russek-Cohen E, Islam MS, Siddique AK, Yunus M, Sack RB, Huq A, Colwell RR.  2002.  Genomic profiles of clinical and environmental isolates of Vibrio cholerae O1 in cholera-endemic areas of Bangladesh. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 99(19):12409-12409.

Pruzzo C, Tarsi R, Lleò MM, Signoretto C, Zampini M, Colwell RR, Canepari P.  2002.  In vitro adhesion to human cells by viable but nonculturable Enterococcus faecalis. Current microbiology. 45(2):105-110.

Colwell RR.  2002.  Fulfilling the promise of marine biotechnology. Marine biotechnology in the twenty-first century: problems, promise, and productsMarine biotechnology in the twenty-first century: problems, promise, and products.

Snellman EA, Sullivan ER, Colwell RR.  2002.  Purification and properties of the extracellular lipase, LipA, of Acinetobacter sp. RAG‐1. European Journal of Biochemistry. 269(23):5771-5779.

Fischer-Le Saux M, Hervio-Heath D, Loaec S, Colwell RR, Pommepuy M.  2002.  Detection of Cytotoxin-Hemolysin mRNA in Nonculturable Populations of Environmental and Clinical Vibrio Vulnificus Strains in Artificial Seawater. Applied and Environmental MicrobiologyAppl. Environ. Microbiol.. 68(11):5641-5646.

Lipp EK, Huq A, Colwell RR.  2002.  Effects of Global Climate on Infectious Disease: The Cholera Model. Clinical Microbiology ReviewsClin. Microbiol. Rev.. 15(4):757-770.

Choopun N, Louis V, Huq A, Colwell RR.  2002.  Simple Procedure for Rapid Identification of Vibrio Cholerae from the Aquatic Environment. Applied and Environmental MicrobiologyAppl. Environ. Microbiol.. 68(2):995-998.