Paul Alan Cox

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Paul Alan Cox
Paul Alan Cox.jpg
Known forFounder of Seacology

Paul Alan Cox is an American ethnobotanist whose scientific research focuses on discovering new medicines by studying patterns of wellness and illness among indigenous peoples.[1] Cox was born in Salt Lake City in 1953.[2]


After receiving his B.S. in Botany and Philosophy from Brigham Young University, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to read for his M.Sc. in Ecology at the University of Wales at Bangor. He received a Danforth Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship for his Ph.D. studies at Harvard University in Biology where he was twice awarded the Bowdoin Prize. He subsequently was awarded a Miller Research Fellowship at the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science at the University of California, Berkeley and later became a University of Melbourne Research Fellow in Australia.


After serving as professor and dean at Brigham Young University he became the first King Carl XVI Gustaf Professor of Environmental Science at the Swedish Agricultural University and the Uppsala University, a visiting professorship established by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. He is a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry[3] and a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London.

Cox (left) and village chief Fuiono Senio (right) won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1997 for their conservation efforts at Falealupo in Western Samoa.

For seven years he was Director of the Congressionally Chartered National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) in Hawaii and Florida, and is currently Executive Director of the Brain Chemistry Labs, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He is the author of 200 scientific papers, reviews, and books and was chosen by TIME as one of eleven "Heroes of Medicine" in 1997 for his search for new medicines from plants.[4]

Evolutionary Ecology[edit]

Cox began his research in evolutionary ecology as a student of John L. Harper at the University of Wales in Bangor by studying dioecy in plants.[5] At Harvard University, he studied how vertebrate pollination influenced breeding system evolution in tropical lianas.[6] He began studies of search theory to understand water pollination[7] and later with mathematician James Sethian used search theory to develop a new approach to the evolution of different size sperm and eggs, known as anisogamy,[8] a topic he continued to pursue with Japanese biologist Tatsuya Togashi.[9] He discovered with colleagues Sandra Banack and James Metcalf in cyanobacteria AEG, a hypothesized backbone of peptide nucleic acids in the pre-RNA world early in the earth's history.[10]


Although trained in evolutionary ecology, because of his fluency in Polynesian languages, Cox was encouraged by Harvard Professor Richard Evans Schultes to pursue ethnobotanical studies. He became increasingly focused on ethnomedicine after his mother died from breast cancer; he subsequently discovered with his colleagues at the National Cancer Institute the anti-HIV/AIDS properties of prostratin.[11] He was elected as President of the Society for Economic Botany and President of the International Society for Ethnopharmacology. Together with Michael Balick, he wrote, Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany.[12] He is currently searching for a cure for ALS.[13][14]


In 1997 he received the Goldman Environmental Prize for the conservation efforts described in his book Nafanua: Saving the Samoan Rainforest (New York: W.H. Freeman), which has been translated into German, Japanese and Samoan. He speaks a variety of island languages and is internationally renowned for his advocacy of indigenous peoples.[15] Cox lived with his family for years in the village of Falealupo on Savai'i island in Samoa where he helped create a covenant with chiefs to protect their lowland rainforest from logging. In 1988, he was bestowed the Nafanua matai chief title by Falealupo in honor of his work.[16]

Dr. Cox founded and is chairman of the environmental non-profit organization, Seacology, located in Berkeley, California, named a Laureate for the Prince's Prize for Innovative Philanthropy in 2015 by Albert II, Prince of Monaco.


As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cox has emerged as a prominent voice for biological conservation.[17] Cox helped defeat the MX missile project proposed for Utah and Nevada, led the successful effort to establish the 50th U.S. National Park, The National Park of American Samoa, and was a delegate to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Lausanne, Switzerland to protect flying fox species in Pacific islands. He served a mission in Samoa and is active in his church.[18]


  1. ^ Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany. New York: Scientific American Library/ W.H. Freeman (1997).
  2. ^ "Who's who in Frontier Science and Technology". 1984.
  3. ^ Royal Swedish Academy
  4. ^ Christopher Hallowell. TIME: The Plant Hunter,(subscription required) October 1, 1997
  5. ^ Cox, P (1981). "Niche partitioning between sexes of dioecious plants". The American Naturalist. 117 (3): 295–307. doi:10.1086/283707.
  6. ^ Cox, P (1982). "Vertebrate pollination and the maintenance of dioecism in Freycinetia". The American Naturalist. 120: 65–80. doi:10.1086/283970.
  7. ^ Cox, P (1993). "Water-pollinated plants". Scientific American. 269 (4): 68–74. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1093-68.
  8. ^ Cox, P; Sethian, J (1985). "Gamete motion, search, and the evolution of anisogamy, oogamy, and chemotaxis". The American Naturalist. 125: 74–101. doi:10.1086/284329.
  9. ^ Togashi, R; Cox, P (2011). The evolution of anisogamy: a fundamental phenomenon underlying sexual selection. Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511975943. ISBN 9780511975943.
  10. ^ "Scientists Discover Possible Building Blocks of Ancient Genetic Systems in Earth's Most Primitive Organisms". ScienceDaily. 9 November 2012.
  11. ^ Nafanua: Saving the Samoan Rainforest. New York: W.H. Freeman (1997).
  12. ^ Balick, Michael; Cox, Paul (1996). Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany. Scientific American Library.
  13. ^ Holtcamp, W (2012). "The emerging science of BMAA: do cyanobacteria contribute to neurodegenerative disease?". Environ. Health Perspect. 120 (3): A110–6. doi:10.1289/ehp.120-a110. PMC 3295368. PMID 22382274.
  14. ^ Heinrichs, Jay (September 2016). "The Storied Man". Southwest The Magazine. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  15. ^ Will Tribal Knowledge Survive the Millennium?, Science Magazine
  16. ^ Congressional Record: Eni F.H. Faleomavaega
  17. ^ Woodruff, Alexandra L. (August–September 2000). "Being a Mormon Environmentalist". Canyon Country Zephyr. Archived from the original on November 24, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  18. ^ Mormon Scholars Testify
  19. ^ IPNI.  P.A.Cox.


External links[edit]