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Paul Alan Cox

Paul Alan Cox
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, twice, he was awarded the Bowdoin Prize, a distinction he shares with Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was appointed as a Miller Fellow at the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science at the University of California, Berkeley and as a University of Melbourne Research Fellow in Australia. Early in his academic career he was named a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator by Ronald Reagan, and used the research funds to pursue his interests in mathematical biology and ethnobotany.


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.

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. Currently, he is executive director of the Brain Chemistry Labs,[3] in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

He is the author of over 220 scientific papers, reviews, and books and was chosen by Time magazine as one of eleven "Heroes of Medicine" in 1997 for his search for new medicines from plants.[4]

Evolutionary ecology

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 where he served for four years as Teaching Fellow for E. O. Wilson, he studied how vertebrate pollination influenced breeding system evolution in tropical lianas.[6] Collaborating at Harvard with tropical botanist P. B. Tomlinson, at Berkeley with Herbert G. Baker, and Melbourne with Bruce Knox, he used mathematical search theory to analyze seagrass 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] They are studying possible health consequences of exposure to isomers of AEG and other cyanobacterial toxins,[11][12] including beta-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA).


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. Subsequently, with his colleagues Gordon Cragg, Michael Boyd, and others at the National Cancer Institute, they discovered the anti-HIV/AIDS properties of prostratin found in the bark of the mamala tree of Samoa.[13][14] He was elected as president of the Society for Economic Botany and has been president of the International Society for Ethnopharmacology. Together with Michael Balick, he wrote, Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany.,[15] and for his ethnobotanical studies was awarded the E. K. Janaki Ammal Medal from India,[16] and the Eloise Payne Luquer Medal by the Garden Club of America.[17] He is a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry,[18] a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, and appointed Adjunct Professor at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden by the Chinese Academy of Sciences[19] and at the College of Pharmacy by the University of Illinois, Chicago.[20] Currently, he is searching for a cure for ALS, Alzheimer's, and other tangle diseases.[21][22][23]


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.[24] Cox lived with his family 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, one of the highest legendary titles in Samoa, in honor of his conservation efforts.[25]

Dr. Cox founded the environmental nonprofit organization, Seacology, located in Berkeley, California, which has preserved over 1.5 million acres of island forests and coral reefs, and was named a Laureate for the Prince's Prize for Innovative Philanthropy in 2015 by Albert II, Prince of Monaco.

At the request of Governor Scott M. Mattheson, 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,[25] 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.[26]


As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cox emerged as a prominent voice for biological conservation.[27][28] He served a mission in Samoa and is active in his church.[29]


  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. Marquis Who's Who. 1984. ISBN 9780837957012.
  3. ^ "Brain Chemistry Labs The Institute for EthnoMedicine". Brain Chemistry Labs The Institute for EthnoMedicine. Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  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. S2CID 84919076.
  6. ^ Cox, P (1982). "Vertebrate pollination and the maintenance of dioecism in Freycinetia". The American Naturalist. 120: 65–80. doi:10.1086/283970. S2CID 85352006.
  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" (PDF). The American Naturalist. 125: 74–101. doi:10.1086/284329. S2CID 85252653.
  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. ^ "Are Toxins in Seafood Causing ALS, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's? |". Discover Magazine. Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  12. ^ Williams, Amy Bennett, Documentary about algae and public health debuts to sold-out crowd, Fort Myers News-Press, August 7, 2019
  13. ^ Nafanua: Saving the Samoan Rainforest. New York: W.H. Freeman (1997).
  14. ^ Cragg, G. M.; Newman, D. J. (2003). "Plants as a source of anti-cancer and anti-HIV agents". Annals of Applied Biology. 143 (2): 127–133. doi:10.1111/j.1744-7348.2003.tb00278.x. ISSN 1744-7348.
  15. ^ Balick, Michael; Cox, Paul (1996). Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany. Scientific American Library.
  16. ^ "Prof. E. K. Janaki Ammal Medal, Society of Ethnobotany India | Ethnobotany | Botany". Scribd. Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  17. ^ "Medalists". Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  18. ^ Royal Swedish Academy
  19. ^ "Paul Alan Cox----Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden,CAS". Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  20. ^ "Faculty | College of Pharmacy | University of Illinois at Chicago". Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  21. ^ "Could This Radical New Approach to Alzheimer's Lead to a Breakthrough?". Fortune. Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Heinrichs, Jay (September 2016). "The Storied Man". Southwest The Magazine. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  24. ^ Will Tribal Knowledge Survive the Millennium?, Science Magazine
  25. ^ a b Congressional Record: Eni F.H. Faleomavaega
  26. ^ "BATS Magazine Article: Landmark Legislation to Protect Flying Foxes". Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ "The Eternal Importance of Righteous Choices". Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  29. ^ Mormon Scholars Testify
  30. ^ International Plant Names Index.  P.A.Cox.


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Paul Alan Cox
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