Paul Cohen

Title: Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology

Expertise: Microbial genetics, bacterial pathogenesis, E. coli

Molecular Biology Professor Paul Cohen is well-known (in a great way) for his teaching and mentorship of graduate students who have gone on be highly successful researchers, educators, and executives. That, plus his 47-year career studying E. coli is why he was recently inducted into the College of the Environment and Life Science’s hall of fame.

During most of his career, Professor Cohen conducted research on various strains of E. coli, the common bacterium that lives in the intestines of humans and other warm-blooded animals. “There are good E. coli and bad E. coli, and I am interested in their nutrition. What sugars does each strain eat in order to grow in the intestine?” he explained. “For the bad E. coli to survive, they have to figure out what to eat so they aren’t competing for food with the good E. coli and with other bacteria.”

While his research has increased the understanding of how E. coli causes disease, his greatest achievement may be in training the next generation of molecular biologists.  He trained 32 graduate students during his career, far more than most faculty members, and he has provided guidance to several generations of young faculty members as well.

“The theme that comes through from each of his former students is that Paul cared for them and was truly interested in their success,” said College of the Environment and Life Sciences Dean John Kirby.

“Long after he retires,” added Professor Gongqin Sun, chair of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, “Paul’s influence will still be felt here at URI.”


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