WHAT I DO
I'm an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University and co-Director of The Human Generosity Project. In my lab we study cooperation across systems from human sharing to cancer.
I study cooperation across many systems in my lab including human sharing and microbial cooperation.
I travel to fieldsites around the world to study how people cooperate especially during times of need.
I use computational models to understand the fundamental principles underlying cooperation and test alternatives.
I apply my work to practical challenges from cancer prevention to developing new solutions to resource management problems.
Recent coverage of our work in the news
We search for general principles of cooperation that manifest across diverse systems
The Human Generosity Project
A large focus of our lab is studying cooperation in humans, focusing especially on helping behavior that occurs in times of need. We study food sharing, resource transfers, shared work and other forms of cooperation using diverse methods including human laboratory experiments, anthropological fieldwork and computational modeling. We also apply these principles to practical problems including resource management and disaster recovery. Learn more about these studies and more on The Human Generosity Project webpage.
Cancer and Multicellular Cooperation
Multicellular bodies are essentially societies of cells that must cooperate and coordinate to contribute most effectively to the fitness of the organism. Cancer represents a breakdown of this multicellular cooperation. In our lab we examine cancer through this lens using computational modeling and clinical collaborations. Our work on this topic was recently covered in The New York Times article Cellular 'Cheaters' Give Rise to Cancer.
Cooperation and Conflict
In addition to studying human sharing and cancer, our lab studies a variety of other systems that are governed by fundamental tensions between cooperation and conflict. This includes maternal-fetal conflict in microchimerism, a topic covered in a recent New York Times article A Pregnancy Souvenir: Cells That are Not Your Own based on our review paper, and the potential role of the microbiome in unhealthy eating behavior, also covered in The New York Times article Our Microbiome May Be Looking Out for Itself.
On teaching, learning and doing science
I am a cooperation theorist, theoretical evolutionary biologist, and cancer biologist working at the intersection of these fields.
In 2002 I graduated from Reed College in Portland, OR with two Commendations for Academic Excellence and membership in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
University of Pennsylvania
I received a Masters Degree in Psychology from University of Pennsylvania in 2004 and my PhD in 2008. The topic of my dissertation was computational models of the evolution of cooperation.
University of Arizona
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Post-doctoral Fellowship
From 2008 to 2011 I was a Post-doctoral Fellow in the laboratory of John Pepper at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I began applying cooperation theory and evolutionary principles to cancer during this time, focusing on dispersal theory and the evolution of multicellularity.
University of California San Francisco
Co-founder Center for Evolution and Cancer (CEC)
Director of Human and Social Evolution, CEC
In 2011 I moved to UCSF to start to the Center for Evolution and Cancer, the first center of it kind. During my time at UCSF I began building my lab and evolution and cancer research program and continued my work on the evolution of cooperation.
Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin
I was a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (also knows as the Wissenschaftskolleg or just 'Wiko') during the 2013-2014 academic year as part of a working group on Cancer Evolution. During this time my colleagues and I worked on fundamental questions about the nature of cancer and the role of evolution in shaping cancer progression and susceptibility.
Arizona State University
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Member, Center for Evolution and Medicine
Member, Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity
In 2014 I moved to Arizona State University in Tempe as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. In my current position I collaborate with diverse researchers from many different departments and centers to study the general principles underlying cooperation and conflict across systems.
Lab members from diverse fields, bound together by common interests
Molecular Biology and Genetics, PhD
Amy Boddy is a post-doctoral fellow in the Aktipis Lab. She has a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Genetics from Wayne State University, School of Medicine. Dr. Boddy works on the applications of life history evolution to cancer. This includes both cellular evolution in neoplams and the role of life history evolution in cancer suppression.
Cognitive Sciences, PhD
Marco Campenni is a post-doctoral researcher on the Human Generosity Project in the Aktipis lab. He received his Ph.D. in Cognitive Sciences from the University Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy. His work is centered on modeling the evolution of cooperative behavior, using different modeling techniques and tools (agent-based modeling, evolutionary game theory, GIS data). His research activity is focused on both theoretical and data informed models of social behaviors and dynamics of animals from an evolutionary and cross-species perspective.
Helen Wasielewski is a post-doctoral fellow in the Microbiome, Evolution and Behavior Project in the Aktipis lab. She earned her Ph.D. in Evolutionary Anthropology from Rutgers University. Dr. Wasielewski works on understanding the relationships between human gut microbiota and eating behavior. She specializes in using laboratory experiments to understand food choice and intake given the evolutionary interests of gastrointestinal endosymbionts and their human hosts.
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, PhD
Experimental and Clinical Oncology, PhD
Angelo Fortunato is research scientist at Arizona state University. He received his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Rice University, Houston, Texas, and a second Ph.D. in Experimental and Clinical Oncology, from University of Florence, Italy. He was Visiting Scholar at Rice University, Contract Researcher at the Institute Jacques Monod, Paris, France, Research Associate at The Welcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, Cambridge, UK, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Neuroscience, University of Siena, Italy, Postdoctoral Researcher and Adjunct Faculty at the Department of Experimental and Clinical Medicine, and at the Department of Experimental and Clinical Biomedical Sciences, University of Florence, Italy and Associate Specialist at University California, San Francisco, CA, USA. His research focuses on molecular genetics, cancer biology, evolutionary biology and cancer evolution.
Andrés Muñoz is a graduate student in the Aktipis Lab. He obtained his bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology and a minor in political science from DePauw University. He is broadly interested in integrating an evolutionary framework with cognitive science methodologies to address questions about human social cognition and behavior. Specifically, his focus is centered on the interaction between the human drives to compete and to cooperate. This includes studying the stability and malleability of these drives as well as the contextual and individual factors that stimulate or dampen competition and cooperation.
Evolutionary Psychology, PhD
Daniel Sznycer (PhD, University of California, Santa Barbara) is an
evolutionary psychologist conducting research on the psychology of
sociality. He combines methods, theories, and concepts drawn from the
cognitive sciences and evolutionary biology to explore and map the
evolved design of social emotions and their underlying motivational
systems. He has multiple lines of cross-cultural evidence on shame,
pride,compassion, and envy, and their roles in altruism, cooperation,
social exclusion, and conflict. The methods he uses include experimental economic games, decision-making tasks, priming methods, cross-cultural and
ethnographic data collection, large-scale representative surveys, and
Biology and Neuroscience, BA
James Medina is a research assistant in the Aktipis Lab. He received his bachelor's degree with majors in biology and neuroscience from Oberlin College in 2015. He is interested in the evolution and maintenance of cooperative strategies, the consequences of cooperation for the fitness of populations, and the implications of these questions for biotechnology, cancer biology, and human behavior. He is interested in utilizing mathematical and cell culture models to investigate these questions.
Pamela Winfrey is the Scientific Research Curator for the Aktipis Lab and the Cancer and Evolution Lab. She explores the relationship between the arts, the humanities, and the sciences by curating and creating artworks, experiences, and exhibitions. Her background is in new media, performance, and installation art and she is also a working playwright and screen writer.