Pioneer Member

Jerry Cohen


Jocelyn-Ozga & Dennis Reinecke

Rita Baraldi – My career as a researcher has been strongly and positively influenced by Jerry’s teachings. He introduced me to the world of plant physiology and biochemistry. For any doubts, I could count on his expertise and his far-sighted vision. Although he was my professor, compared to me as a young researcher, he was always kind, friendly and patient in teaching a foreigner the English language. He taught me to believe in myself and become a determined woman. For all these reasons, he left an indelible mark on my professional and personal life.

Kai-Hsien Chen – Professor Jerry Cohen pioneered modern Mass Spectrometry studies of the plant hormone, Idole-3-Acetic Acid (IAA). His milestone work in 1986 describing synthesis of the 13C-labelled benzene ring of IAA opened a new door for endogenous plant hormone studies by isotope dilution Mass Spectrometry. As his graduate student, I was amazed that my professor was so visionary to integrate a stable isotope into plant hormone and mass spectrometry studies. As a plant biochemist, he synthesized a wonderful and priceless compound. This opened my vision of what a plant biochemist/physiologist can accomplish and explore.

He provided 13C 6-benzene labeled IAA worldwide to peer auxin researchers to promote fundamental studies of the plant hormone and later transfered the protocol free of charge to a commercial entity in support of his belief that there is nobility in pure science and it should be simple and cost less to the scientiic public. His unselfishness and dedication to plant science inspired me and made him my mentor for life.

As a foreign graduate student from Taiwan and new to US in 1984, Jerry taught me all the fundamentals of GC/MS and guided me in operating and maintaining the instrumentation of the bench top GC/MS the year GC/MS became generally available for research. It was a privilege for a young graduate student and a seemingly unreal dream to have a dedicated GC/MS just for plant science research. This training experience was unprecedented and opened a brand new field of Mass Spectrometric research. Dr. Cohen’s guidance during my doctoral and postdoctoral research was priceless when I was puzzling over my future postdoctoral work. Jerry encouraged me to take one step further and explore the possibility of developing the instrumentation and its application to plant science studies. His encouragement had a long lasting effect on my scientific research and contributed to my recent work elucidating the biosynthetic pathway of an endogenous potential anti-cancerl drug, antroquinonol, from Antrodia cinnamomea using 13C stable isotope tracer LC/MS technology. The way Jerry demonstrated how to explore a new plant science frontier by harnessing a related but yet to be integrated field, such as 13C6-IAA and Isotope dilution GC/MS and many other techniques in daily lab work, shaped my approach to science research and my research direction. Plant science researchers can make scientific information availalble and support its unselfishness to others. My three years at the Beltsville USDA were an enjoyable and an influential period of my life. Jerry has always been my model and mentor. I believe that he will continuously contribute as a Pioneer in Plant Biology for many years to come.

Angela Culler – Dr. Cohen is a role model when it comes to student education, innovation, and collaboration. I was fortunate enough to have Jerry as my Ph.D. advisor, and from the very first meeting I was impressed by his commitment to creating “global citizens” in plant biology. He was generous with his time, advice, and resources, and as a student I always felt supported to forge my own scientific path and exploration of a future career. He actively promoted collaboration across laboratories, departments, universities, and the globe, and welcomed students, staff, and faculty to his laboratory to collaborate and learn the latest methods in analytics. Jerry also was a fantastic example of the importance of “community” service – be it leading or participating in university committees, attracting and supporting the best new students, scientists, and faculty, or leading in plant scientific and other associations. His legacy will continue leading to exciting and impactful discoveries and application in plant science and beyond.

Trine Hvoslef-Eide – Jerry was my host when I visited the University of Minnesota as a Fulbright Scholar in 2009-2010. He was generous with his time, lab equipment, and coworkers who taught me all about GC-MS for hormone analysis. I learned so much, including how to change the column of the CG-MS and prepare spike samples. He held wonderful and high-spirited group meetings and everyone was very welcome, including newcomers to the Dept of Horticulture. He took them under his wing and helped them settle in. I am forever grateful for what he taught me in science and in group management, without using elbows, like many scientists do to forward their careers. Thank you, Jerry!

Xing Liu – With knowledge, patience, humor, self-discipline, hard work, and generosity, Dr. Cohen showed me what being a great mentor means. He was the advisor for my PhD study, and he has been a mentor my whole life.

Jocelyn Ozga and Dennis Reinecke – Jerry has been a great promoter of plant science, plant research, and plant hormone biology. Above all, he is a wonderful friend and colleague.

Peng Yu – I look at my time at Jerry’s lab with great fondness. He is an advisor and mentor to graduate students both in and out of his lab. He taught us how to sell ourselves and our science, and do it unapologetically. Jerry believes in academic freedom and practices this with his students as well. We were allowed to come up with our own dissertation topics, but he was nevertheless responsive and ready to help out. He fought for his students even when he had nothing personally to gain. The first car I ever owned was a gift to me from his postdoc, Seijin Park, who had parked the car in front of Jerry’s house for a couple of years. After receiving the car, I spent two months going to Jerry’s place every weekend, working to repair the engine. Jerry would buy tools he did not own, so I could fix the car that he arranged for me. In the end, it would have cost way less had he just paid an auto repair shop to fix it, but we would not have had such great memories. Sometimes I wondered, did Jerry actually have more fun educating the next generation of scientists than advancing his own professional career? Everything seemed to be centered on us and our career development, rather than how to get the most results out of us. I think many probably still remember the free food he used to bring to the lab meeting and departmental seminars. Of course, Jerry is also a solid scientist and taught me bioanalytical skills from which I have been benefiting throughout my career. Many times there are different ways to do things, but Jerry ensured we always went for an elegant solution, never the fast, sloppy one. Science is also an art.