Martin Nowak

Professor of Mathematics and of Biology

Harvard University, Program Evolutionary Dynamics
One Brattle Square, Suite 6
Cambridge, MA 02138
Tel: 617-496-4737


Lab Size: Between 15 and 20


The Program for Evolutionary Dynamics is an interdisciplinary group, bringing together scientists from different disciplines to study theoretical and experimental aspects of evolution. Under the direction of Martin Nowak, Professor of Mathematics and of Biology, researchers at the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics use mathematical approaches and computer simulations to study the evolution of cooperation (evolutionary game theory), the evolution of social behavior, the somatic evolution of cancer, the dynamics of virus evolution, the evolution of language, and the origins of life. Experimental methods from behavioral economics are also used to explore human interactions, bridging theory and experimental observations.

Evolution is the one theory that permeates all of biology. The evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhanski once remarked: "Nothing in biology makes sense if not seen in the light of evolution." We add: "Nothing in evolution makes sense if not seen in the light of evolutionary dynamics."

Evolutionary dynamics is the study of the fundamental principles of evolutionary change. Evolution requires populations of reproducing individuals. Mutation generates novelty. Natural selection and random drift determine the fate of new mutants. Cooperation leads to organization.

The natural laws of evolution can be formulated in terms of precise mathematical equations. These equations describe reproduction, mutation, selection and cooperation. Reproduction can be genetic or cultural. Therefore, evolutionary dynamics describe in principle both genetic and cultural evolution - although there are important differences. These methods provide a powerful set of tools for investigating issues across biology and the social sciences.


Waclaw B, I Bozic, ME Pittman, RH Rhuban, B Vogelstein, MA Nowak (2015). A spatial model predicts that dispersal and cell turnover limit intratumour heterogeneity. Nature 525: 261-264. doi: 10.1038/nature14971

Hauser OP, DG Rand, A Peysakhovich, MA Nowak (2014). Cooperating with the future. Nature 511: 220-223. doi: 10.1038/nature13530

Bozic I, JG Reiter, B Allen, T Antal, K Chatterjee, P Shah, YS Moon, A Yaqubie, N Kelly, DT Le, EJ Lipson, PB Chapman, LA Diaz Jr., B Vogelstein, MA Nowak (2013). Evolutionary dynamics of cancer in response to targeted combination therapy. eLife 2: e00747. doi: 10.7554/eLife.00747

Nowak MA, Highfield R (2011). SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and We Need Each Other to Succeed. Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 9781451626636.

Nowak MA (2006). Five rules for the evolution of cooperation. Science 314: 1560-1563. doi: 10.1126/science.1133755