Rita Colwell Honored with International Award for Tropical Medicine Research

Dr. Rita Colwell

Dr. Rita Colwell

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) congratulates Dr. Rita Colwell for receiving the 2015 Mahathir Science Award.

The international award, given annually by the Mahathir Science Award Foundation and the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, recognizes scientists who have pioneered tropical research breakthroughs. Colwell was honored for groundbreaking research, innovation, and scientific leadership in the ecology of infectious diseases and advanced technologies to halt their spread.

Colwell, a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Chair of the GoMRI Research Board, is one of the world’s leading scientists studying cholera. The first woman to win the award, Colwell discovered that cholera bacteria can enter a dormant stage that, under proper conditions, revert to an infectious state.

Reflecting on this award, Dr. Colwell said that “It is an honor to be recognized for the work done over the past forty years on cholera. I am grateful to my many splendid students, visiting scientist colleagues, and collaborators in this very rewarding research. To alleviate suffering and curb the spread of disease are our goals and we are pleased to have made progress on both.”

A few highlights of Colwell’s tropical medicine research: She wrote the first computer program to identify marine bacteria, and her use of computational tools to study microorganisms helped establish the field of Bioinformatics. She was one of the first scientists to recognize the impact of climate change on the waterborne microbial world, and she pioneered the use of remote sensing for disease prediction, including using satellite imaging, to track and predict outbreaks of cholera.

Other notable awards Colwell has received include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Science and the Environment; the National Medal of Science; the Stockholm Water Prize; 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 Chair of the GoMRI Research Board.


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 https://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

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