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Martin Nowak : biography

1965 -

Martin A. Nowak is Professor of Biology and Mathematics and Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University.


Research interests

Professor Nowak's current research interests include:

  • Somatic evolution of cancer, genetic instability, tumor suppressor genes
  • Stem cells, tissue architecture
  • Viruses, infectious diseases, immunology
  • Quasispecies
  • Genetic redundancy
  • Evolution of language
  • Evolutionary game theory
  • Evolutionary graph theory
  • Evolution of cooperation and fairness
  • Prelife

In 1990 Nowak and Robert May proposed a mathematical model which explained the puzzling delay between HIV infection and AIDS in terms of the evolution of different strains of the virus during individual infections, to the point where the genetic diversity of the virus reaches a threshold whereby the immune system can no longer control it. This detailed quantitative approach depended on assumptions about the biology of HIV which were subsequently confirmed by experiment.See Evolutionary Dynamics p171, etc.

In a paper in Science in 2006 Nowak enunciated and unified the mathematical rules for the five understood bases of the evolution of cooperation (kin selection, direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, network reciprocity, and group selection). Nowak suggests that evolution is constructive because of cooperation, and that we might add “natural cooperation” as a third fundamental principle of evolution beside mutation and natural selection.

In a paper featured on the front cover of Nature Nowak and colleagues demonstrated that the transition of irregular verbs to regular verbs in English over time obeys a simple inverse-square law, thus providing one of the first quantitative laws in the evolution of language.


Martin Nowak studied biochemistry and mathematics at the University of Vienna, and earned his Ph. D. in 1989, working with Peter Schuster on quasi-species theory and with Karl Sigmund on evolution of cooperation. In 1989, he moved to Oxford as an Erwin Schrödinger Scholar to work with Robert May, becoming Head of Mathematical Biology in 1995 and Professor of Mathematical Biology in 1997. In 1998 he moved to the IAS at Princeton to establish the first program in Theoretical Biology there. In 2003, Nowak was recruited to Harvard University as Professor of Mathematics and Biology.Bio-details used with thanks from the He is Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics which was funded with a $30 million pledge by Jeffrey Epstein,Financier pledges $30 million to support Harvard researcher, The Associated Press, 7 February 2003 a friend of Nowak who had supported his work in the past.

Virus Dynamics Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life

Nowak was co-director with Sarah Coakley of the Evolution and Theology of Cooperation project at Harvard University, sponsored by the Templeton Foundation. He is also a member of the Board of Advisers of the Templeton Foundation. In a lecture given at Harvard in March 2007 called "Evolution and Christianity", Nowak, a Roman Catholic, argued that "Science and religion are two essential components in the search for truth. Denying either is a barren approach." see also

He has over 300 scientific publications, of which 40 are in Nature and 15 in Science.

In 2010 a paper by Nowak, EO Wilson, and Corina Tarnita, in Nature, argued that standard natural selection theory represents a simpler and superior approach to kin selection theory in the evolution of eusociality. This work has led to many comments including strong criticism from the proponents of inclusive fitness theory.Gadagkar R (2010) Sociobiology in turmoil again. Current Science, 99:1036-1041 Nowak maintains that the findings of the paper are conclusive and that the field of social evolution should move beyond the limitations imposed by inclusive fitness theory.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine