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Larry W. Cohen

Larry W. Cohen

Professor Emeritus Founding Faculty - Biology

Larry W. Cohen

After completing the undergraduate course work needed for a California General Secondary Teaching Credential and a BA in Biology, I entered the graduate division in Biology at the University of California at Los Angeles, where I received both the Masters and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. My Ph.D. degree was in Genetics, with minors in Biochemistry and Comparative Physiology. In addition to my dissertation, I had two refereed papers reporting on my work published while I was a graduate student and two immediately after I received my degree.

I was awarded a two year Post-doctoral Research Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health which allowed me to work with David Bonner who had been hired to set up both the science program at UCSD and the UCSD Medical School. When my sponsor died at the end of the first year, I transferred the fellowship to the Department of Human Genetics of the University of Michigan Medical School, where I worked with Myron Levine on bacteriophage lysogeny.

My first teaching position was at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. By the beginning of the second year there I had submitted a grant application to NIH which was funded. At Rutgers, I set up a laboratory in an old classroom and attracted two graduate students and four undergraduate students to work with me. To help gain early promotion I was encouraged by the Biology Department to seek a competing offer. I therefore applied to Pomona College, received an offer and was so impressed with the quality of their facilities and students that I took the position. There I played a role in the development of a new NIH grant-sponsored emphasis on molecular biology being initiated within the otherwise strong undergraduate curriculum.

During my 22 years at Pomona, I was promoted up through the ranks to full Professor. During my two terms as Department Chair I presided over the amalgamation of the Zoology and Botany departments into a single Biology Department. I also chaired the Natural Science Division at Pomona College. I was given an endowed chair - the Halstead Professorship in Biology.

During my years at Pomona College I carried out research in some of the most rapidly advancing areas of molecular biology, funded by grants from NSF, NIH, the Research Corporation and from private industry (Smith Laboratories). I also received travel grants from the Genetics Society of America, from NIH and from NATO which allowed me to give presentations on my research at Oxford University, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and to attend the International Congress of Genetics in New Delhi, India.

When I didn’t have grant funding, I undertook co-coaching of the Pomona-Pitzer College NCAA Division III soccer team. [I had been trained as a coach by Detmar Crammer, the Federation International Football Association (FIFA) coach of the German World Cup Championship team.] In one of those years, the Pomona team won the league and regional championships.



In 1982 following a sabbatical leave with Art Riggs (City of Hope) I was author (and project leader) on one of the two landmark papers that employed site-directed mutation to re-engineer a protein. Those papers radically changed the methods used to study protein structure and function. The technique is now in worldwide use in every laboratory studying protein structure and the contribution of structure to functioning. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in 1993 to the pioneer (Michael Smith) of the field.

The active site of Papain
Looking Down the Active Site of Papain.  The green region identifies the catalytic amino acid.

With industrial funding and then grants from NSF and NIH, my laboratory was the first to clone and sequence the genetic information for the protein-digesting enzyme of papaya - papain. We showed that the gene can be transferred into bacteria and that the bacteria then produce the plant protein using that genetic information. At the time I left to found the science program at CSUSM, my laboratory was in the process of producing mutations that would re-engineer the enzyme and affect the way the enzyme functioned and how it bound the proteins upon which it acted. A paper was published on that work while I was at CSUSM.

I also published a paper at CSUSM describing "Hybribox," a device I designed to protect the researcher from radiation released when doing hybrizations involving radioactive phosporus 32P.

At CSUSM I generated a textbook tentatively entitled " "Nutrition: The Physiological Basis." The material for two-thirds of the text was generated entirely from the current literature. The text (which currently is over 800 pages of typed material one and one-half line spacing, not counting references, study question, figures or tables) consists of 24 chapters, 20 of which have gone through several drafts. Because of its interdisciplinary nature, the publishers it has been submitted to have not known how to market it. The textbook is about nutrition, but it is also heavily into physiology, chemistry, parasitology, microbiology, ecology, health sciences, etc. It had been deliberately written in an interdisciplinary manner, largely in response to the considerable discussion in academia about the importance of developing an interdisciplinary approach.


Genetics is an upper division course with laboratory for majors intended to prepare students with a foundation of important information applicable to all other areas of biology. Because many of our other laboratory classes in the Biology program emphasize molecular biological techniques, I have deliberately chosen in laboratory to emphasize bacterial and viral genetics (Gene cloning techniques were taught in the lab in the past but have been de-emphasized more recently so as to avoid duplication of labs in other courses).

Virology is a graduate level course that is open to advanced undergraduates. During approximately three quarters of the semester I lecture to the class and during the last quarter the students deliver seminars that they have prepared during the semester dealing with some of the categories of viruses, e.g. RNA tumor viruses, Herpes viruses, Hanta viruses, Rhabdoviruses (rabies type), hepatitis, etc. I provide literature to help them prepare their presentations. I have also arranged for a reference librarian to lecture the students (additional to the usual class time) on how to conduct computer literature searches. The students hand in one-page summaries on each of the the student presentations. There are two exams during the semester and a final exam. The student presentations are also graded.

Physiology and Nutrition. Non-science majors who often have not experienced the disciplined study that science requires find the Nutrition course particularly demanding. To help them prepare the material, I have given out in advance a list of approximately fifty multi-part essay questions that I promise will be used exclusively to generate the exams. The students are encouraged to work in study groups and to generate answers to the questions in preparation for the exams. When invited, I appear at their study sessions to help them with answers that are giving them difficulty. If students are willing to put in the time needed to prepare the course, there is no reason they should not do well. In the Fall of 1996, for example, I had one student (a sociology major, I believe) with no previous coursework in science, who earned 368 points out of a possible 375 in the course. At the same time, many students who had not prepared, failed.

The Human Heredity course for non-majors is intended to make the students aware of what is known in the field as well as what is being done to re-engineer and correct human hereditary defects. There are many ethical questions raised by current experimentation and it is important to have an informed citizenry able to understand what is being done. This course is presented as a combination of lecture and discussion.


Education and Professional Experience:

  • 1960: B.A. Zoology, University of California, Los Angeles
  • 1962: M.A. Zoology (Genetics), University of California, Los Angeles
  • 1962-63: Predoctoral Fellow, National Institutes of Health
  • 1963: Ph.D. Zoology, University of California, Los Angeles
    • Major Field: Genetics
    • Minor Fields: Biochemistry and Comparative Physiology
  • 1963-65: Postdoctoral Fellow, National Institutes of Health: University of California, San Diego; 1963-64 with David Bonner (member of the National Academy of Sciences and Founder - UCSD Biology Dept and Medical School); University of Michigan 1964-65 with Myron Levine

Positions Held:

  • 1965-67 : Assistant Professor, Biological SciencesRutgers University. Member of the Graduate Faculty in Bacteriology
  • June 1967 to August 1967 : Visiting Professor, Department of Zoology  University of California, Los Angeles
  • 1967-70 : Assistant Professor of Zoology, Pomona College
  • 1970-77 : Associate Professor of Zoology, Pomona College
  • 1972 : Elected to the Graduate Faculty of the Claremont University Center
  • 1973-76 : Chair, Department of Biology, Pomona College
  • February 1974 to June 1974 : Visiting Professor, Department of Molecular Virology, Hadassah Medical School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • June 1977 to August , 1977 : Visiting Professor of Biology, University of California,  Los Angeles
  • July 1977 on : Professor of Biology, Pomona College
  • 1978 to 1979 : Chair, Natural Science Division, Pomona College
  • December 1980 : Sabbatical leave, with Art Riggs, City of Hope Beckman Research Center
  • July 1981 to June 1983:    Chair, Department of Biology, Pomona College
  • August 1987 to January 1988 : Sabbatical leave Laboratory of Chemical Physics, University of Groningen, The Netherlands (working with Jan Drenth, who had done the X-ray diffraction analysis of papain)
  • Summer, 1989 and Summer, 1991 : NATO Fellowship, University of Groningen,  The Netherlands
  • August 1989 to June 1992 : Program Director for Biology,  CSUSM
  • April, 1994 to June, 1994 :   Consultant on loan to the Universite de Marne La Vallee, Paris France, on the development of their Biology Program.


Cohen, L.W. and Siegel, R.W. (1963). The mating type substances of Paramecium bursaria. Genetic Res. 4; 143-150.

Siegel, R.W. and Cohen, L.W. (1963). A temporal sequence for genic expression: Cell differentiation in Paramecium. Amer. Zool. 3; 127-134.

Cohen, L.W. (1964). Diurnal intracellular differentiation in Paramecium bursaria. Exp. Cell Res. 36; 398- 406.

Cohen, L.W. (1964). The basis for the circadian rhythm of mating in Paramecium bursaria. Exp. Cell Res. 37; 360-367.

Cohen, L.W. and Levine, M. (1965).
 The electrophoretic analysis of proteins synthesized after infection with phage P22. Genetics 52; 436 (abstract).

Cohen, L.W. and Levine, M. (1966). Detection of proteins synthesized during the establishment of lysogeny with phage P22. Virology 28; 208-213.

Cohen, L.W. (1969). Delayed lysis with a mutant of Salmonella bacteriophage P22. J. Virol. 4; 209-213.

Cohen, L.W. (1969). Delayed lysis with Salmonella bacteriophage P22: Induction of lysis by addition of cysteine or histidine to the growth medium. J. Virol. 4; 214-218.

Cohen, L.W. (1970). Delayed lysis in Salmonella Phage P22. Bact. Proc. (abstract).

Cohen, L.W., Knipprath, W.G., and Allen, C.F. (1970). Delayed lysis in Salmonella phage P22: The appearance of free fatty acids coincident with induced cell lysis. Virology 41; 430-435.

Cohen, L.W., Showers, M.R., and Andrus, W.D. (1971). Growth and cell division of Salmonella typhimurium infected with a mutant of phage P22. Virol. 45; 848-852.

Knipprath, W.G., Cohen, L.W., and Allen, C.F. (1971). Lipid changes in Salmonella typhimurium on infection with bacteriophage P22. Biochim. Biophys. Acta. 231; 107-121.

Comings, D.E. and Cohen, L.W. (1979). Two dimensional gel electrophoresis of 125I-labeled surface proteins of human fibroblasts. Biochim. Biohys. Acta. 578; 61-67.

Cohen, L.W., Molin, C., Itakura, K., Riggs, A.D., Dalbadie-McFarland, G., and Richards, J.H. (1982). Proteins to Order: Use of synthetic DNA to generate site specific mutations (abstract). Proceedings International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Paper delivered at meeting at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Cohen, L.W., Itakura, K., Riggs, A.D., Dalbadie-McFarland, G. and Richards, J.H. (1982). Oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis as a general and powerful method for studies of protein function (abstract). In Abstracts of Cold Spring Harbor Meeting entitled, "In Vitro Mutagenesis", (May 12-16), page 2. Paper was delivered at the meeting on May 12.

Dalbadie-McFarland, G., Cohen, L.W., Riggs, A.D., Morin, C., Itakura, K., and Richards, J.H. (1982).Oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis as a general and powerful method for studies of protein function. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., USA 79; 6409-6413.

Cohen, L.W., Coghlan, V.M., and Curtis-Dihel, L. (1986). Cloning and Sequencing of cDNA encoding Papain. Gene 48; 219-227.

Cohen, L.W. and Dihel, L.C. (1987). Cloning and Expression of Papain-encoding cDNA. Protein Engin. 1; 254 (Abstract).

Cohen, L.W. and Dihel, L.C. (1990). Synthesis of papain in Escherichia coli. Gene 88; 263-267.

Cohen, L.W., Dihel, L.C., Dwiers, D.E. and Coghlan, V.M. (1990). Hybribox: A device for processing numbers of radioactively-labeled hybridization filters with a minimum of personal exposure. BioTechniques 8; 362-364.

Research Grants:

  • 1965 : Grant, Research Council of Rutgers University 
    Title: Protein Synthesis during Phage P22 Infection

  • 1966 : Grant, National Institutes of Health
    Title: Protein Synthesis during Phage P22 Infection
    $65,000 over 3 years

  • 1968-71 : Renewal of grant, National Institutes of Health
    Title: Protein Synthesis during Phage P22 Infection

  • 1971 : Grant, National Science Foundation- Molecular Biology
    Title: Bacteriophage Induced Cell Lysis

  • 1971 : Special Fellowship, National Institutes of Health with William Belser, Department of Life Sciences,University of California, Riverside

  • 1977 : Grant, to Chair "Women in Science" Workshop,  Sponsored by the National Science Foundation

  • 1976 : Grant, Andrew Mellon Foundation (summer)
    Title: The Biology of Women (preparation of teaching modules)

  • 1983-86 : Grant, Seaver Science Research Fund of Pomona College

  • 1987 : Grant, Smith Laboratories
    Title: The Cloning and Site Specific Mutagenesis of Papaya Peptidases
    $89,096 direct funds; total $134,096

  • 1986 : Grant, Research Corporation
    Title: Studies of Site-Specific Mutagenesis to Alter Chymopapain

  • 1986 : Grant, National Institutes of Health
    Title: Introduction of Specific Amino Acid Changes in the Enzyme Papain by Site-Specific Mutation. Two years.

  • 1989 : Fellowship, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
    Purpose: To promote collaboration between my laboratory and that of Professor Jan Drenth, University of Groningen.
    Three summer visits. $5,000.

  • 1991 : Grant for a contingency fund for Biology from Hybritech Incorporated.

Faculty Committee Service:

At Pomona College:

  • Curriculum Committee
  • Athletics Committee
  • Judiciary Committee
  • International Education Committee
  • Commission on the Education of Women
  • Executive Committee (which governed the operation of all other committees) (chair elect)
  • Financial Aid Committee
  • Faculty-Trustee Retreat Planning Committee
  • Institutional Biosafety Committee (chair)
  • Radiation Safety Committee
  • Research Committee

At California State University, San Marcos:

  • Liberal Studies Committee
  • Dean of Arts and Sciences Search Committee (Chair)
  • First Construction Phase Buildings Committee (Chair)
  • WASC Accreditation Steering Committee
  • Mission Statement Drafting Committee
  • Enabling, Nominating Committee (to implement the constitution)
  • Retention, Tenure and Promotion Guidelines Drafting Committee
  • Search Committees for Biology (7 positions) (Chair) and Chemistry (4) (Chair)
  • Budget and Long Range Planning Committee of Academic Senate
  • Retention, Tenure and Promotion Committee
  • First Planning Committee, International Festival at CSUSM
  • President's University Budget Advisory Committee
  • WASC Accreditation Renewal Committee
  • Physical Education Building Planning Committee
  • Physical Education Curriculum Planning Committee (Chair)
  • Campus Free Speech Policy Drafting Committee
  • AIDS Advisory Committee
  • Physical Education Building Planning Committee (Chair)
  • Outstanding Professor Award Committee
  • Retention, Tenure Promotion Committee (Chair)
  • Faculty Development Committee (two years)
  • Biotechnology Subcommittee (Chair)
  • Biotechnology Draft Committee (Chair)

Courses Taught (Major):

  • Introductory Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Genetics
  • Macromolecular Biosynthesis (Graduate and Senior Level Course)
  • Cancer Virology (An Advanced Seminar Course)
  • Virology (Graduate and Senior Level Course)

Non-Major Courses:

  • Physiology of Nutrition and Disease
  • Human Physiology
  • Human Heredity
  • Nuclear War: The Japanese Experience (Highly interdisciplinary seminar course incorporating information from Physics, Biology, Nuclear Medicine, MilitaryScience, History, English, Psychology)


  • Mills College - on the remodeling of their Biology building and the restructuring of the curriculum
  • Joint Sciences of the Claremont Colleges - on the design of their new building
  • Universite de Marne-la-Vallee (in Paris) on the integration of their science program and integration of Biology into the entire program. Spent two months as the guest of the University during which time interviewed faculty and students and prepared the report for the President.
  • California State University at San Marcos - as Founding Faculty for the Sciences, planned the structure of the laboratory building, wrote the application for and obtained State approval for $2,000,000 worth of equipment to accompany the building, ran the search for the Chair of Chemistry and coordinated the input of chemistry into building design and equipment request. In all $4,000,000 worth of research and teaching equipment was approved. I then supervised purchase of most of that equipment. While the building was being constructed, designed and supervised the construction of temporary laboratory facilities. In addition, designed the major for Biology and wrote the catalog description for all courses.


  • Wrote and submitted (with a faculty member in Education) a grant application to the National Science Foundationto fund a program improving K-12 science education through development of a discovery-based curriculum. Not funded.
  • Served as CSUSM representative to three programs outside the institution:
       --CSUPERB (the CSU Program for Education and Research in Biology)
       --Science Education Improvement Program at UCSD.
       --California State University Scope Sequence and Coordination Science Teacher Professional Development Program
  • Submitted a preliminary grant application to the Fund to Improve Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) to support the development of a laboratory intensive program in science education, one that put lecture courses after laboratory experience - to support the laboratory experience rather than lead it. Not selected.
  • Submitted an application to Hybritech (an industrial subdivision of Eli Lilly and company) for $2000 to fund a seminar program in Biology (the program was funded).
  • Participated on the WASC accreditation Committee
       --Developed and administered a questionnaire and evaluated the data on CSUSM faculty research
       --Wrote a major section of the WASC renewal application
  • Chaired Physical Education Committee (3 years). At the request of the Academic Vice President, the committee drafted an interdisciplinary PE major(Kinesiology) for University , met with experts on facilities design and drew up plans for the Physical Education building and the layout of the athletic fields. As chair I met with the Campus Physical Planning Department, members of the Foundation, architects and experts on PE facilities, and an interested donor who has since provided the campus with a sizeable donation toward the construction of an Olympic quality track and soccer field.
  • Drafted a Physical Education minor for Liberal Studies
  • Edited the first half of an introductory textbook for John Wiley and Sons (Brum, G., McKane L., and Karp, G., "Biology -  Exploring Life" - Published 1994)
  • I served on loan to the Université de Marne-la-Vallée in Paris as a consultant to the President on the design of their Biology program and how it might be made interdisciplinary with the other sciences. The report made recommendations on how to interrelate all of the sciences and mathematics with biology, and proposed several interdisciplinary science programs that could be developed. While at Marne-la-Vallée I presented a researchseminar to the faculty and graduate students entitled "The Engineering of a Gene; the Engineering of a New University" in which I described my research just before coming to CSUSM and the work done to create CSUSM.
  • Advisor to the biology component of the Human Development program designed at CSUSM and then served as Biology representative on the Human Development Committee Books for Compton High School- I collected eight boxes of introductory textbooks across the desciplines in Arts and Sciences and delivered them to the library of Compton High School to supplement their library book holdings. In a subsequent year I collected about 20 boxes of books (many in Spanish) and delivered them to the Compton High library.
  • Chaired Subcommittee on Biotechnology. The charge of the Biology subcommittee was to propose a course of study for students preparing to work in the Biotechnology industry. The committee met during the Spring semester and the summer. At the behest of the Dean of Arts and Sciences and the Vice President for Academic Affairs I carried out a major study leading to the design of a Biotechnology study program for students of CSUSM. More recently, at the request of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, I conducted a study of the Biotechnology industry in the San Diego area and proposed how a Biotechnology training program could be initiated at CSUSM.

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