Rita R. Colwell

University of Maryland, College Park


Election Year: 2000
Primary Section: 63, Environmental Sciences and Ecology
Secondary Section: 27, Evolutionary Biology
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

As a microbial ecologist, I have studied the metabolism, systematics, evolution, and ecology of marine bacteria and viruses, specifically the Vibrionaceae and Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of cholera pandemics. Vibrio cholerae is autochthonous to the marine and estuarine environment, has an absolute requirement for Na+, and is associated with zooplankton, notably copepods, all of which my laboratory was able to establish. We showed that this bacterium and related vibrios exhibit a starvation response, and also showed that the bacterium is capable of entering a dormant stage. With this information, we developed highly specific gene probes for direct detection of the bacterium in the environment and for monitoring its seasonality. We devised a simple filtration method for use in developing countries to prevent cholera. Research on marine viruses has demonstrated their unexpected abundance in estuaries. My most recent research is focused on the effects of climate on human health, specifically infectious diseases. We are employing interdisciplinary approaches to understand these complex relationships.

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