• Vibrio cholerae on T.C.B.S. Agar — Detail by Nathan Reading (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

ONWARD Webinar no. 6 with Dr. Rita Colwell (UMIACS)

Climate and Health: Conquering Water Borne Diseases in the 21st Century

On March 7, 2022, 2-3 PM UTC, we are very proud and honoured to have Dr. Rita Colwell (Distinguished University Professor at UMIACS – University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies) on our ONWARD Webinar Series. Dr. Colwell will lecture on Climate and Health: Conquering Water Borne Diseases in the 21st Century.

The role of microorganisms as a driver of fundamental processes of climate, emerging infectious diseases, and human health is surprisingly extensive and extraordinarily complex. It is now clear that the human microbiome plays a significant role in health and well-being. But the global function of microbes is only beginning to be understood. A model for such study is cholera, a disease the causative agent of which is a bacterium whose home is the aquatic environment. Research now shows that this bacterium is native to the environment but also a deadly pathogen, particularly in lesser-developed countries. Next generation sequencing and bioinformatics of cholera patient microbiomes suggest cholera is best described as a polymicrobial infection, with Vibrio cholerae a key player. Extension of the findings from cholera to study of the microbiome offers new insight into infectious diseases, including COVID-19. The studies on COVID-19 now provide a predictive capacity for the current pandemic.


Headshot Dr. Rita Colwell

Dr. Rita Colwell

Climate and Health: Conquering Water Borne Diseases in the Twenty-first Century

Dr. Rita Colwell is a Distinguished University Professor 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 chairman of CosmosID, Inc. Her interests are focused on global infectious diseases, water, and health. Dr. Colwell developed an international network to address emerging infectious diseases and water issues, including safe drinking water for both the developed and developing world, in collaboration with Safe Water Network, headquartered in New York City.

She 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. Before joining NSF, Dr. 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.

One of Dr. 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. Dr. Colwell is a nationally-respected scientist and educator, and has authored or co-authored 19 books and more than 800 scientific publications. She produced the award-winning film, “Invisible Seas,” and has served on editorial boards of numerous scientific journals, including GeoHealth, which she founded at AGU in 2015.

Dr. Colwell has previously served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology and also 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, the International Union of Microbiological Societies, and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Dr. Colwell is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Irish Academy, the Bangladesh Academy of Science, the Indian Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. 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.

Colwell has been awarded 62 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education, including her alma mater, Purdue University.

A geological site in Antarctica, called Colwell Massif, has been named in recognition of her work in the Polar Regions.

Colwell has published a new book, “A Lab of One’s Own: One Woman’s Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science” Learn more here.

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

Special Awards/Honors

  • 2006 National Medal of Science (given by President George W. Bush)
  • 2006 “Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star”
  • Japan Society for Promotion of Science
  • 2010 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate
  • 2016 Malaysian Academy of Science Mahthir Science Award for Scientific Excellence in Work in the Tropical Regions
  • 2016 Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water
  • Creativity Prize, Saudi Arabia, 2017
  • Vannevar Bush Award, National Science Board and National Science Foundation
  • 2017 International Prize for Biology, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2017 Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur (“Knight of the Legion of Honor”), France
  • 2018 Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore) Water Prize.
  • Dr. Colwell has served as President, American Society for Microbiology (ASM)
  • President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • President, American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS)
  • Chair of the Research Board for the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative through 2020.


Headshot Shubha Sathyendranath

Dr.  Shubha Sathyendranath

Dr. Shubha Sathyendranath is an oceanographer from India (Cochin University of Science and Technology), with a doctorate from France (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris), who has worked in India, France and Canada before moving to the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK. Her main interests are marine optics; remote sensing; marine primary production; biological-physical interactions in the ocean; climate variability; and climate change. She is currently the science lead of the Ocean Colour Climate Change Initiative of the European Space Agency. She worked for many years as the Executive Director of the Partnership of Observation of the Global Oceans, devoting her time there to improving international coordination and collaboration, as well as capacity building for ocean observations. Most of her research work has had an open-ocean focus. Her interest in issues of ecosystem health in coastal and inland water bodies was stimulated by learning about the degradation of the water quality of Vembanad Lake in Kerala, India, and its implications for human health.

About Open Network on Water-Related Diseases (ONWARD):

ONWARD (Open Network for Water-Related Diseases) is dedicated to developing a network of scientists and stakeholders sharing a common interest in better understanding of environmental controls on outbreaks of water-related diseases; the role of societal engagement in countering it; and in forecasting, early warning and risk mapping of water-associated diseases through the use of remote sensing, field observations and mathematical modelling. Our vision is to enable cost-effective, regularly updated, geo-referenced early warning for areas vulnerable to water-associated diseases, which in turn will enable preventive measures to be deployed in a timely manner to minimise the probability of epidemics. It is an open network committed to promote better dialogue and collaboration among experts from all relevant disciplines and with stakeholders, including the general public. Through the project, we intend to bring together experts from fields related to water associated diseases such as microbiologists, remote-sensing scientists, medical practitioners, and social scientists. A series of webinars are being organised as part of the activities of ONWARD.

If you are interested in joining ONWARD, please write to onward.gcrf@gmail.com with “ONWARD Membership” in the subject line.

We will continue with the ONWARD Webinars during the next months. Expect some very exciting afternoons, or mornings or evenings, depending on where you are… If you need any additional information please send an email to Jose Luiz Moutinho.

You may be also interested in…

ONWARD Webinar no. 5 with Cristiane Girotto (CEng, BEng (Hons), MRes): Analysis of Environmental Factors Supporting Recurring Cholera Outbreaks in Sub-Saharan Africa

ONWARD Webinar no. 4 with Dr. Jamie Shutler (Associate Professor at the University of Exeter, UK): Rapid Assessment of Sars-Cov-2 Transmission Risk for Fecally Contaminated River Water

ONWARD Webinar no. 3 with Ricardo José de Paula Souza e Guimarães (Instituto Evandro Chagas, Brazilian Ministry of Health): Applied Geotechnologies for Waterborne Disease Studies in Brazil