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Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences

Vaughn Cooper is an evolutionary biologist and microbiologist who studies the evolution of infectious disease and how microbes and cancers adapt to new environments and hosts. He is currently Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, and Computational and Systems Biology, at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine. He co-founded and is Director of the Center for Evolutionary Biology and Medicine.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Amherst College and his Ph.D. in 2000 from Michigan State University under the mentorship of Richard Lenski, where he studied the evolution of specialization in the Long-Term Evolution Experiment of E. coli populations. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Michigan Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan, studying pathogens of the cystic fibrosis airway with John LiPuma. He was Assistant and Associate Professor at the University of New Hampshire from 2004-2015, moving to the University of Pittsburgh in 2015. . His awards include the 2010 Outstanding Assistant Professor at UNH and an NSF CAREER award. After serving as Chair of the Council of Microbial Sciences for the American Society of Microbiology, he was elected to the Board of Directors. His research is supported by the NIH, NSF, NASA, and by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The Cooper laboratory studies how bacterial populations (e.g. Burkholderia, Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, and multispecies communities) evolve to adapt to new hosts and environments, particularly in biofilms. Other major interests include the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, the evolution of antimicrobial resistance and why genome regions mutate/evolve at different rates. We also develop and promote a laboratory curriculum called EvolvingSTEM that enables high school students to learn the practice of life science research and key topics in evolution and heredity by conducting a weeklong experiment with bacteria.


  • –present
    EvolvingSTEM Founder and Executive Director; Professo of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, University of Pittsburgh