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photo of Don Cowan

Don A. Cowan
Director, Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics
Department of Biotechnology University of the Western Cape
Cape Town South Africa

Don Cowan was educated in New Zealand at the University of Waikato and completed a period of Post Doctoral study there before moving to University College London as a Lecturer in 1985. After 15 years in London, he accepted the position at Professor of Microbiology in the Department of Biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, where he is now a Senior Professor. In 2002 he established, and is Director of, the Institute Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics, a group currently comprising some 60 research and support staff.

Professor Cowan has published around 165 research papers, review articles and book chapters, and sits on the Editorial Boards of 13 international journals. His collaborators include researchers in New Zealand, Chile, Hong Kong, France, the UK, China, Spain, Germany, Sweden and Norway.

Prof Cowan also holds the post of Adjunct Professor at the University of Waikato, was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa in 2007 and a Member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa in 2008. He was awarded an NRF B1 rating in 2007, and the UWC Vice-Rector’s Award for Research Excellence in 2008.

Prof Cowan’s research activities encompass several disparate fields, but almost all linked by the theme of ‘environmental extremes’. Since his PhD studies, he has retained an interest in the ecology and enzymology of extreme thermophiles, organisms living at the temperature of boiling water. For the past decade he has worked at the other end of the temperature scale with New Zealand, Chinese and American scientists, studying the microbiology of the Dry Valleys of Eastern Antarctica. He collaborates with Ethiopian, Kenyan and Norwegian researchers to study organisms in the alkaline Rift Valley lakes, with South African and Spanish researchers on bacteria in high salt environments, and with French researchers on acidic environments. He leads a strong program of microbial genomic bioprospecting, and works closely with other Cape researchers on the structure and function of extremophilic enzymes.


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Editor: Linda Conrad
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: June 2011