Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
College of Medicine
Martin Cohn’s research interest lies at the interface of embryonic development and evolution. Some members of his laboratory use mouse developmental genetics to understand the causes of birth defects. Others are comparing development in different organisms to identify mechanisms responsible for the major transitions in vertebrate evolution, such as the origin of the skeleton and the transition from fins to limbs.
Cohn’s view is that the cross-fertilization that comes from integrating comparative development with studies of model organisms provides a unique opportunity to understand not only the mechanisms of development and evolution, but also how each has shaped the other. His research group continues to take an integrative, multidisciplinary approach in order to tackle a new problem facing humans, the rise of birth defects due to environmental endocrine disruptors.
Cohn is searching for genomic targets of endocrine disrupting compounds in order to understand how agents in our environment interfere with the developmental genetics of the embryo. By using mouse genetics to identify the function of genes, and to determine their responsiveness to endocrine disruptors, he hopes to usher in a new era in which safe guidelines for exposure can be recommended, and in which cell- and gene-based therapies for repair of affected organs will be possible.