Prof Rita Colwell Honoured as Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize Laureate 2018
In conjunction with World Water Day and the launch of the International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development 2018 - 2028, Professor Rita R. Colwell was unveiled as the recipient of the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize 2018 today.
Professor Colwell’s accomplishments and commitment to the pursuit of science and its application have been exceptional. Over her immensely rich and multi-faceted career which continues till today, she has benefited the lives of millions worldwide through her pioneering insights into microbial water quality surveillance and her tireless efforts in building upon these insights to transform the surveillance and control of cholera and other waterborne diseases.
Professor Colwell’s discoveries and innovations have fundamentally changed the way the world thinks of water microbiology. Her breakthrough discovery of the “viable but non-culturable” (VBNC) phenomenon showed that bacteria can exist in a state in which they are alive and can cause harm even though they cannot be cultured. While met with scepticism from many prominent scientists at that time, the VBNC phenomenon has now been shown to exist in more than 50 species of bacteria, including many pathogens. Building upon this discovery, Professor Colwell was an early and active proponent of the use of novel molecular methods for more accurate and comprehensive diagnostics of water pathogens.
Professor Colwell also discovered that Vibrio cholerae, previously thought to be incapable of surviving more than a few hours outside the human host, occurs naturally in the aquatic environment associated with plankton. This discovery highlighted the critical link between the environment and the cholera disease, leading to her subsequent application of satellite imagery and modelling to predict cholera outbreaks, and the innovative use of affordable sari cloth filters to dramatically reduce drinking water contamination.
Professor Rita R. Colwell said, “I am truly honoured to be this year’s recipient of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, one of the most prestigious global water accolades, on this significant occasion, which takes place on World Water Day and in conjunction with the launch of the International Decade of Action “Water for Sustainable Development”. I am confident the pioneering spirit and innovative mindset represented by the Water Prize will further encourage future generations of talents to realise our shared goal of providing access to safe water for all.”