Researcher: U.S. is in a better place to respond to biological attacks, outbreaks

Distinguished university professor Rita R. Colwell
Distinguished university professor Rita R. Colwell | Courtesy of the University of Maryland

Infectious-disease researcher Rita R. Colwell is in a unique position to understand the dangers of biological agents that could be employed in a terrorist attack or biological outbreaks that could endanger U.S. citizens.

In addition to being the president and CEO of CosmosID Inc., Colwell is currently a distinguished university professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, and Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

She also was the director of the National Science Foundation from 1998 to 2004.

With her experience and reflections on past attacks and outbreaks, including the 2001 anthrax attack in the U.S., Colwell recently told that she believes the United States is better prepared to respond to and defend against biological attacks. She does, however, believe that further changes could improve responses to potential situations.

“I think that strengthening public health capacity is very important,” she said. “Coordination between state public health units and federal public health organizations is also very important.”

As a researcher, Colwell has focused in the past on global infectious diseases, water and health. She is currently creating an international network dealing with climate change, infectious diseases and water issues.

“I have been very active in developing rapid and accurate identification of microorganisms to strain level, and it’s been very effective,” Colwell said.