The 2,178th Meeting of the Society

May 28, 2004

The 73rd Joseph Henry Lecture

Oceans and Human Health

A Symbiotic Relationship between People and the Sea

Rita R. Colwell

Retiring Director, National Science Foundation

About the Lecture

From the complex chemistry that spawned life on Earth to the many thousands of lives lost in surging seas, human fate has been hitched to the oceans. We have discovered that life in the oceans maintains the biogeochemical cycles necessary to sustain life on earth and that we share a mutual vulnerability to ecological change. We recognize that oceans are conduits for threats to human health but life in the oceans offers potential sources of therapeutic compounds which could be used to treat cancer and infectious diseases. Some of the ties that bind human health to the oceans, borrowing from my research on the relationship between infectious diseases and the oceans, will be highlighted, along with a look to the future, in which, using modern tools, we can reap a medical harvest from marine microorganisms.

About the Speaker

Born in Beverly, Massachusetts, Dr. Colwell holds a B.S. in Bacteriology and an M.S. in Genetics, from Purdue University, and a Ph.D. in Oceanography from the University of Washington. Before coming to NSF, Dr. Colwell was President of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, 1991-1998, and she remains Professor of Microbiology and Biotechnology (on leave) at the University Maryland. She has been the director of the National Science Foundation from 1998 until this year. She was also a member of the National Science Board from 1984 to 1990. Dr. Colwell has held many advisory positions in the U.S. Government, non-profit science policy organizations, and private foundations, as well as in the international scientific research community. She is a nationally respected scientist and educator, and has authored or co-authored 16 books and more than 600 scientific publications. She produced the award-winning film, Invisible Seas, and has served on editorial boards of numerous scientific journals.