Athena Aktipis

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Athena Aktipis
Athena Aktipis at New America.jpg
Aktipis at 2017 New America discussion
EducationReed College – BA (psychology, 2002) University of Pennsylvania – MA (psychology, 2004) and PhD (psychology, 2008)
EmployerArizona State University
Known forPsychology, biology, cancer research

Christina Athena Aktipis is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University.[1] She is the director of the Interdisciplinary Cooperation Initiative and the co-director of the Human Generosity Project. She is also the director of the Cooperation and Conflict lab at Arizona State University, vice president of the International Society for Evolution, Ecology and Cancer (ISEEC), and was the director of human and social evolution and co-founder of the Center for Evolution and Cancer at UCSF. She is a cooperation theorist, an evolutionary biologist, an evolutionary psychologist, and a cancer biologist who works at the intersection of those fields.[2] Aktipis is the author of the book published on March 24, 2020 from Princeton University Press The Cheating Cell: How Evolution Helps us Understand and Treat Cancer.[3] Athena recently launched the second season of Zombified, a podcast created to communicate the science of zombification in daily life. Zombified is an extension of the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting (ZAMM), a biannual conference chaired by Aktipis. ZAMM is an interdisciplinary conference where art, science and medicine come together with the aim of solving complex issues.


Aktipis earned a B.A. in psychology from Reed College in 2002. She earned an M.A. in 2004 and a Ph.D. in 2008 in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2011, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in ecology and evolutionary biology with John Pepper at the University of Arizona.[4] Between 2011 and 2014, Aktipis was an assistant research professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University, while also serving as director of human and social evolution at the Center for Evolution and Cancer, at University of California San Francisco. During 2013–2014, Aktipis was a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study, Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin. Upon her return to the United States, Aktipis and her colleague Lee Cronk, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University, co-founded The Human Generosity Project. Since 2015, Aktipis holds an appointment as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University.


Interdisciplinary Cooperation Initiative[edit]

The ASU Interdisciplinary Cooperation Initiative brings together scholars from across the disciplines who are joined by a shared interest in understanding the fundamental principles that drive cooperation. It holds workshops and working group meetings with faculty in and outside of ASU, organizes a biannual Cooperation and Conflict Symposium, and the Interdisciplinary Study of Cooperation Winter School taught by world-renowned cooperation researchers. In addition to supporting the interdisciplinary study of cooperation, it also supports broader ventures to cultivate cooperation among the disciplines.[5]

The Human Generosity Project[edit]

A large focus of Aktipis' work is cooperation in humans, focusing especially on helping behavior that occurs in times of need. Aktipis co-directs the Human Generosity Project with Dr. Lee Cronk of Rutgers University. Together with the team, Drs. Aktipis and Cronk study the relationship between biological and cultural influences on human generosity by using multiple methodologies such as field work, laboratory experiments, and computational models.[6]

Microbiome and human behavior[edit]

Microbes have access to many systems underlying human behavior.[7] In her lab, Aktipis and colleagues explore how the microbiome may play a role in eating behavior and social behaviors.


Kombucha is a popular drink made by the fermentation of tea by symbiotic bacteria and yeast.[8] Aktipis uses this beverage to explore microbial resource exchange and to determine whether the kombucha symbiosis is able to fight off pathogens that single species of microbes cannot.

Cancer and multicellular cooperation[edit]

Multicellular bodies are societies of cells that must cooperate and coordinate to contribute to organism fitness. Cancer represents a breakdown of multicellular cooperation.[9] Aktipis examines cancer through this lens, using evolutionary theory, computational modeling, and clinical collaborations. Aktipi's most recent work on cancer is through the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center, where she co-leads Project 1: Organismal Evolution and Cancer Defenses and the Outreach Unit.[10]

Zombified Podcast[edit]

Aktipis created an educational podcast about how we are vulnerable to be controlled by things and what that means for our future. It features interviews with ASU Psychology Department faculty, other ASU faculty and scholars from outside of ASU talking about forces beyond our control that affect our behavior. It covers diverse disciplines including evolutionary biology, psychology, parasitology, microbiology, computer science and more.[11]

Selected publications[edit]

Selected talks[edit]


Between 2011 and 2019, Aktipis organized five bi-annual conferences of the International Society for Evolution, Ecology and Cancer.

Aktipis is the founder of the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Alliance and the conference chair of the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting, which debuted with its first meeting on October 18–21, 2018 and is scheduled to take place again October 15–18, 2020.[12]


External links[edit]