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Cowan Don

Elected: 2016

Country (Nationality)

New Zealand




Don Cowan was educated (BSc, MSc, PhD) at the University of Waikato (New Zealand), before moving to a Lectureship at University College London (UK) in 1985. In 2001 he was appointed to the Chair of Microbiology and as Head of the Department of Biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape (RSA), where he established the Institute for Microbial Ecology and Metagenomics. In 2012 he moved to the University of Pretoria as the Director of both the Genomics Research Institute and the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics.

Don’s research is in microbial ecology and microbial genomics, where he and his team use modern ‘omics’ methods to understand the diversity and function of microorganisms in different environments. He works with many other research laboratories in South Africa and across the world. Don has published over 340 research papers, review articles and book chapters.  He has an h-index of 42 (Scopus). 

In the course of his career, Don has trained and graduated 38 PhD students and 47 MSc students.  He currently supervises or co-supervises 3 research fellows, 10 postdoctoral researchers, 10 PhDs and 7 MScs.

Don is also Adjunct Professor at the University of Waikato (NZ), was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa in 2007, as a Member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa in 2008, and as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2009. He was awarded the University of the Western Cape Vice-Rector’s Award for Research Excellence in 2008 and the South African Society for Microbiology Medal for Research

Excellence in 2009.  He was awarded an NRF A-rating in 2013 and received the National Science and Technology Forum Capacity Development award in 2014.  In April 2015 he received the University of Pretoria’s highest research award, the Chancellor’s Medal. He was elected as a Fellow of African Academy of Sciences in March 2017.