After receiving his Ph. D. from the University of Sussex, in England studying nitrogen regulation in bacteria, Dr. Edwards moved to the United States to continue his studies. He worked as a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, understanding how a leading cause of traveller’s diarrhea (E. coli)causes disease. Dr. Edwards then moved to the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign to study another food-borne pathogen, Salmonella. These studies merged the nascent area of genomics with traditional microbial genetics to investigate how a particular type of Salmonella became the leading cause of food-borne illness in the United States.
From 2000 to 2004, Dr. Edwards was an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis, TN. Here, Dr. Edwards continued his studies on pathogenic bacteria, notably Salmonella and the bioterrorism weapon Francisella. Dr. Edwards received FBI clearance to work on these bacteria and was invited to the NIH to comment on the use of Select Agents at basic research laboratories.
In 2004, Dr. Edwards moved to the non-profit Fellowship for Interpretation of Genomes to work at the interface of biologists and computer scientists and worked with their team at Argonne National Laboratory. He remains an active software developer for Argonne and the Fellowship, developing open-source software including PERL and Python software for biological analysis and parallel computing that are used by scientists worldwide. Using breakout DNA sequencing technologies, Dr. Edwards’ studies have continually pushed the forefront of both sequencing technology and bioinformatics. His work has been published in leading journals including multiple papers in both Nature and Science.
Dr. Edwards returned to academia in 2007, taking a research and teaching position in the Departments of Computer Science and Biology at San Diego State University where he rose through the ranks to become a Full Professor. He continued to work at the interface of biology and computing. The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, the Department of Defense, the USGS, and private donors funded Dr. Edwards’ research at SDSU, and his work led to breakthroughs in our understanding of how viruses interact with their hosts, and how viruses from around the world carry important genetic information. Dr. Edwards has continued to push current sequencing and bioinformatics technologies, in 2013 took a next-generation sequencing machine to the remote Southern Line Islands to explore metagenomics of coral reefs in real-time. In 2014 Dr. Edwards’ team identified a virus that is present in the intestines of approximately half the people in the world, and in 2019 Dr. Edwards demonstrated the global spread of the virus in a paper that includes collaborators from every continent who collected and sequenced samples. In 2017, Dr. Edwards was elected to the American Academy of Microbiology in recognition of his contributions to the field of microbiology. In 2020, Dr. Edwards took the position of Matthew Flinders Fellow in Bioinformatics at Flinders University, in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia to start the Flinders Accelerator for Microbiome Exploration, to enhance microbiome and metagenome studies in South Australia.
Committed to teaching, Dr. Edwards received the graduate student award for the outstanding educator at the University of Tennessee, the teacher-scholar award and outstanding faculty award four times at San Diego State University. He was Graduate Advisor to the Biological and Medical Informatics Program at SDSU. Rob travels extensively to share his passion for bioinformatics and has taught bioinformatics classes around the US, and in Australia, China, Chile, Europe, Mexico, and North and South America. Dr. Edwards holds a visiting professor position at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
In addition to science and teaching Dr. Edwards is also an advanced scientific SCUBA diver having led teams to study Coral Reefs all over the world. In his spare time, he is an avid international yachtsman, navigating in long-distance offshore races, including navigating the 2019 TransPac race from Los Angeles to Honolulu finishing 4th out of 89 boats.