Colwell to Receive 2017 International Prize for Biology

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative congratulates its Research Board Chair Dr. Rita Colwell on her selection as the 33rd laureate of the International Prize for Biology. The prize, managed by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, honors outstanding contributions to research advances in fundamental biology and is one of the most prestigious honors a natural scientist can receive.

The award honors Colwell as a pioneer in using computational tools and DNA sequencing to identify and classify marine bacteria and other microorganisms, work that helped lay the foundation for the bioinformatics revolution. The prize also recognizes Colwell’s life-saving contributions to the understanding and prevention of cholera.

Colwell’s career bridges the disciplines of microbiology, ecology, infectious disease, public health, and computer and satellite technology. She continues to be a leader in bioinformatics, notably in understanding microbiomes and the application of this knowledge to human health and the diagnosis and treatment of disease. This includes her current work as founder and chairman of CosmosID Inc., a microbial genomics company focused on molecular diagnostics of human pathogens and antimicrobial resistance.

“It is an extraordinary honor to be named recipient of the International Prize for Biology, a very special honor for a biologist,” said Colwell. “I am deeply grateful to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for this award. I have many friends and colleagues in Japan and look forward to continuing my many collaborations with them.”

The selection committee cited Colwell’s transformational work in establishing the taxonomy of vibrio bacteria; identifying a survival strategy of dormant vibrio cells; showing how climate change has expanded the habitat of vibrios and the occurrence of cholera; and discovering an effective way to use the sari as a filter to remove vibrio-carrying plankton from drinking water.

The International Prize for Biology, instituted in April 1985 by the Committee on the International Prize for Biology, consists of a certificate, a medal, a 10-million yen award (more than $90,000), and a silver vase bearing the imperial crest. The award presentation ceremony and reception honoring Colwell will held in late 2017 at the Japanese Academy in Japan.

Colwell is the recipient of other notable awards and honors such as a National Academy of Inventors Fellow; Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Science and the Environment; the National Medal of Science; the Stockholm Water Prize; the Mahathir Science Award; and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from the Emperor of Japan. Colwell is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Swedish Royal Academy of Science, Irish Royal Academy of Science, and the Bangladesh and Indian Academies of Science.

Dr. Colwell is a nationally-respected scientist and educator, having held  positions as the Director of the National Science Foundation, National Science Board member, President of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, and Professor of Microbiology and Biotechnology at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has authored or co-authored 17 books, more than 800 scientific publications, and has been awarded 61 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education.

The GoMRI community joins in the accolades of Dr. Colwell’s exceptional contributions to science and direction as the GoMRI Research Board Chairman.


The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit

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