SASBMB Gold Award for Prof Don Cowan

Posted on December 28, 2022

Professor Don A Cowan, Director of the Genomics Research Institute and the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics at the University of Pretoria, was recently awarded the South African Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SASBMB) Gold Award.

The SASBMB Gold Award is awarded to a senior member of the Society who has made an outstanding contribution to Biochemistry and/or Molecular Biology in Southern Africa and internationally.

Prof Cowan is delighted and honoured to receive the 2022 SASBMB Gold Medal Award. “I originally trained as a biochemist and, after my postdoctoral years, joined a good old-fashioned biochemistry department at UCL in London. I rapidly realised that my knowledge of biochemistry had huge gaps, some of which were subsequently filled in during the years of teaching protein chemistry to second-year students and tutoring medical students.”

“Some twenty years ago, I reinvented myself as a molecular ecologist and spent the past two decades studying the microbiomics in extreme environments. With the rise in functional metagenomics, particularly the functional interpretation of Metagenome Assembled Genomes, it has become apparent that a solid grounding in biochemistry has become absolutely essential.

“I have to gratefully acknowledge the efforts of all those wonderful postdocs, PhD and MSc students that I have worked with over the years:  we all know that these young researchers not only catalyse the careers of those above them, but some will become the research leaders of the future,” Prof Cowan concluded.

Prof Cowan’s research is in microbial ecology, microbial genomics and applied microbiology, where he and his team use modern ‘omics’ methods to understand the diversity and function of microorganisms in different environments. Much of his research focuses on the microbiology of extreme environments, including hot (Namib) and cold (Antarctic) desert soils, but he also supervises research projects investigating the rhizospheric zones of economic crop plant species. He is currently leading the pan-African African Soil Microbiome project.

Prof Cowan has an NRF A1 rating, the 2019 Royal Society of South Africa’s John FW Herschel medal, the University of Pretoria’s 2020 Exceptional Supervisor’s Award and now the SASBMB 2022 Gold Medal.

- Author Martie Meyer

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