Darwindag og Horisontforelesning: Making Sense of Cancer

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. So what is the evolutionary meaning of cancer? What will it take to get rid of it? In this lecture, professor in medicine Jarle Breivik explores the evolutionary logic of cancer.

Illustration of cell division

February 13th – 16.0018.00 Studentsenteret, Egget, Bergen

The lecture
Cancer development is an evolutionary process driven by natural selection within a multicellular organism. This multicellular organism has evolved from a single cell, which itself is the result of billions of years of evolution. Concurrently, human organisms have evolved brains, which have enabled the evolution of cultural information. Some cultural phenomena, like smoking cigarettes, cause cancer. Others, like the evolution of biotechnology, aim to eliminate the disease.

Cancer causes disease, shapes our lives, and drives technological development. Like life in general, it involves natural selection of memes, genes, and epigenes. It is all about evolution, and Charles Darwin’s fundamental theory provides an integrated scientific framework for understanding the problem. Yet, it can be hard to see the meaning of this painful phenomenon that eventually kills so many of us. We are facing a fundamental paradox: Cancer is an inevitable consequence of aging. The better we get at treating cancer and other diseases, the longer we live, and the more cancer there will be in the population. The cancer epidemic is the result of our own success, and the solution is not the wonderful medicine many people imagine. We are in the midst of a major evolutionary transition, and The cure for cancer will be a technological revolution that will fundamentally change life on earth and what it means to be human.

In this lecture, Jarle Breivik explores the evolutionary logic of cancer. He draws lines from the evolution of the species, through embryologic development, to aging and malignant transformation. What will it take to get rid of cancer? Should society rather learn to live with it?

Practical information
Coffee and refreshments will be served from 15.45, and the lecture starts 16.15 in Egget, Studentsenteret (Parkveien 1).

Everyone is welcome! The lecture is intended for a wide audience, will be held in English, and is part of the Horizons seminar series of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences dedicated to big questions. Coffee and refreshments will be served from 15:45.

About the lecturer
Jarle Breivik is Professor and Head of Department of Behavioural Medicine at the Institute for Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo. He is an M.D. and has a Ph.D. in the field of immunotherapy. His theory on the evolutionary dynamics of cancer development has received international recognition. He later turned to science communication and medical education and received an Ed.D. in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania. Breivik has challenged the basic premise of cancer research about “finding a cure” and wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that spurred international debate (the op-ed is behind a paywall, but a related Science and Society article in EMBO Report is open access). His recent book Løsningen på kreftgåten has received excellent reviews (in DagbladetApollon, and Michael) and will be available in English later this year.

Kjernekraft og bærekraft

Er kjernekraft nødvendig for å unngå global oppvarming og samtidig sikre stabil og tilstrekkelig energiforsyning? NTVA, Tekna og Academia Europaea inviterer til foredrag om behovet for kjernekraft og om nyere reaktorteknologi.

Foredrag 14. februar kl 19.00–20.30, Høgskulen på Vestlandet, Kronstad, 1. etasje i M-bygget.

Arrangører: NTVA i samarbeid med Tekna Bergen og Academia Europaea Bergen.

Det er en økende erkjennelse av at overgangen til et globalt samfunn tilnærmet fritt for fossil energiforsyning ikke er mulig uten massiv oppbygging av kjernekraft. Som et resultat av dette er nye reaktorteknologier under utvikling i et hundretalls ulike internasjonale virksomheter hvor små kjernekraftverk planlegges å kunne leveres fra samlebånd. I vårt naboland Sverige har Riksdagen nylig vedtatt en opptrappingsplan for kjernekraftverk. Selv i vårt skrint befolkede fedreland kan det bli svært vanskelig å gjennomføre et grønt energiskifte om ikke kjernekraft blir en vesentlig del av energimiksen.

På møtet vil Jan Petter Hansen (UiB/NHH) innlede med en analyse av påstanden om at kjernekraft virkelig er helt nødvendig om vi skal nå de internasjonale bærekraftsmålene. Deretter vil Lars Jorgensen (CEO) og Niels Berger (CFO) fra ThorCon (thorconpower.com) presentere ThorCons reaktorteknologi og beskrive hvordan den skal anvendes i et energiforsyningsprosjekt i Indonesia. De vil presentere utformingen av selskapet sin saltsmeltereaktor som er under utarbeidelse. Denne planlegges rettet mot det globale markedet, der målet er å kunne konkurrere direkte med kull og LNG på kostnader, skalerbarhet og etableringstid.


Putting people first: how do we care for each other, build resilience and solidarity in a world in crisis?

What is a crisis, and how do we ensure we provide adequate support – social, economic, health and wellbeing – to those in need? How can societies distribute the burdens, as well as the benefits, fairly and equitably? These questions are addressed at the January 31th webinar organized by our sister Hub in Cardiff.

Registration here.

Season’s Greetings from academic director Eystein Jansen


If the previous covid-affected two years were exceptional, the year that now comes to a close has been no less exceptional. I am thinking of the Russian aggression and the war in Ukraine with all its atrocities, loss of lives and senseless destruction. The effects of the war have been profound on many aspects of academic life, most dramatically for our Ukrainian colleagues who have had to suspend their work, flee their workplace, home and country.

Winter landscape

Season’s Greetings from the Academia Europaea Bergen Knowledge Hub.

I am happy to have seen many examples of solidarity and various forms of help extended, and hope that strong support from academics and their institutions actively will support Ukraine in rebuilding a strong, democratic research nation when the war eventually is over. This will be a costly but well spent use of resources. Many of our Russian colleagues have been negatively affected as research collaboration between Russian institutions and the rest of Europe have come to a halt, and long-term research programmes have been abruptly terminated. These measures have been necessary, but individual researchers suffer.

Many of these are colleagues who oppose the invasion and are victims of the strong oppression of free thinking imposed by Putin´s regime. Within the remit of our Hub, the high geopolitical tensions have specially affected those countries who are neighbours to Russia and Ukraine, but all countries are affected in various ways, e.g. through reductions of existing research networks, restrictions of research funding due to financial emergencies caused by increased energy prices and prioritization of military spending over other aspects of public spending, such as on research.  

The changing geopolitical situation also affects science diplomacy. Science has played an important role in creating a situation of collaboration and lowered tensions in the Arctic, for instance during the cold war. This situation is now significantly worsened by the war in Ukraine. The war has led to a suspension of work in the Arctic Council, and potential losses of critical observations of key importance for monitoring the strong changes in Arctic climate. Our Hub follows this dangerous development with the production of a special report on the fate of climate diplomacy after the war in Ukraine, due next year, and a special side event during the Arctic Frontiers conference on Feb 2, 2023 (see more info elsewhere in this newsletter).  

In 2022 the Hub has increased its activities as we have moved out of covid-restrictions, and we hope this will allow for more person-to-person meetings and increased activities in 2023.  

AE organised a cross-class Task Force on environment, climate and sustainability issues led by Prof. Verena Winiwarter which was administratively supported by our hub. The report from the Task Force also included a survey of our members and I am happy that we received many good suggestions for the future work on these issues and that many members have volunteered to take part. The AE Board is now setting up a more permanent Task Force, in which it is likely that I will take part. I hope many of the members in our region will take part as plans evolve.  

AE-Bergen Hub academic director Eystein Jansen.

AE-Bergen Hub academic director Eystein Jansen.

We have organized or co-organised several events in 2022, and plans are emerging for 2023. Please share with us any ideas or suggestions you might have for events. One thing we wish to do is to create some events on specific pan-Nordic/Baltic aspects of research and research policy, and and hope to have members outside of Bergen involved in the planning and execution of these.  

 The Hub has in 2022 entered into an agreement with the Young Academy of Europe to assist in some of their administrative tasks. The Young Academy and the voice of young scholars are critical for the future of European Research, and we are pleased to offer help.  

 In September we were visited by Sierd Cloething, for many years AE president and an important person for strengthening the Bergen Hub, something we are very grateful for. We could tap into Sierd´s Earth Science expertise and his experiences in Science Advice for Policy through two guest lectures during the visit. Earlier this year we were visited by Abel Prize laurate Laszlo Lovacs, who is also Director of the AE Budapest Hub and had the opportunity to discuss Hub-to-Hub collaboration, an area that AE aims to strengthen in the time to come.  

In 2022 we can welcome 47 new members of AE from our region. I would like to wish all new members warmly welcome and hope we can see many of you in our upcoming activities. We still have a way to go to ensure that the leading scholars in our region become AE members, and I would also like to see a more gender balanced and younger membership. I therefore hope that the coming nomination cycle will engage more of our members with these aspects in mind. So please nominate! 

I am very pleased that the agreement between AE and The University of Bergen was renewed for 4 more years in 2021. This gives the hub financial and administrative support a nice platform to operate from.  

When the year comes to an end, I would specifically like to thank the Hub-staff, Kristin and Nils Olav for their hard work, dedication and support in 2022. I know this is much appreciated across the Academy.  

I am a strong supporter of scientific excellence and the key importance of curiosity driven frontier research. The ERC is a remarkably successful and a premier funder of such research. I have had the pleasure of serving this fantastic organisation in the last years through its Scientific Council. In the following 3 years I will extend this work,serving as Vice-President for the Physical Sciences and Engineering Domain of the ERC, which I will combine with my AE duties. Despite all the uncertainty we live through, I do hope that the importance of basic science will rightfully be acknowledged in Europe. Our future as a region will very much depend on the creative minds of scientists who can express and pursue their best ideas. Thus, the two missions of AE and ERC have a lot in common.  

Best wishes for the Season and the coming year! 


Report on Science Diplomacy in the Arctic commissioned by AE-Bergen

Science Diplomacy has been a central part of Arctic relations for many decades, with the 8 Arctic states working together, even during the Cold War. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russo-western relationship has understandably entered an ice-cold phase. What are the foreseeable effects of freezing Science Diplomacy in the Arctic? This is the subject of a report commissioned by the AE-Bergen Hub.

Political scientist Ole Øvretveit.

Political scientist Ole Øvretveit on a wintry, if not exactly Arctic day in Bergen.

Political scientist Ole Øvretveit will be writing the report, based on interviews with arctic experts, scientists, and political analysts. Arctic relations will also be the topic of a side event during the Arctic Frontiers conference, titled “The Future of Arctic Science and Science Diplomacy”, taking place on Thursday 2nd February. The event is organised by the AE-Bergen Hub, with co-organisers University of Bergen, Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (DNVA) and University of Tromsø as co-organisers.

– “The new Russian openness in the 1990’s, particularly in the wake of Gorbachev’s Murmansk speech, opened new areas for Science Diplomacy in the Arctic. Even though the field of Science Diplomacy never cooled completely during the Cold War, new possibilities opened in the 1990’s, especially in areas like environment and climate. We saw significant rewards from sharing scientific data. Even though other effects of the war in Ukraine are more catastrophic, it is worthwhile investigating the effects of halting this collaboration,” Øvretveit says.

Øvretveit has been interviewing experts on the Arctic for the upcoming report over the last few months and is now in the process of evaluating his findings.

– “I hope that the report will be useful for readers interested in the Arctic, not necessarily just experts on the Arctic. Hopefully, the report will also shed some light on how reduced international Arctic science collaboration has affected our understanding of climate change in the Arctic,” Øvretveit says.    

Eystein Jansen: A champion for basic research, for Academia Europaea and the ERC

– It has long been my firm belief that the chances of achieving premium research are higher when researchers are allowed to develop their own ideas. Challenging ideas are also more likely to result in new knowledge, says Eystein Jansen, Academic Director of the AE-Bergen Hub, AE trustee and as of 1st January, 2023, Vice-President of the ERC.

Eystein Jansen, Academic Director of the AE-Bergen Hub.

Eystein Jansen, Academic Director of the AE-Bergen Hub.

Two months after he takes up the position as ERC Vice-President, Jansen will be celebrating his 70th birthday, but this does not seem to lessen his energy at all. He is an outspoken champion for basic research and cites the focus on basic research in the current ERC guidelines as an important reason for accepting the appointment.

– I have great respect for the ERC. It is of huge importance that the ERC continues to be a flagship for basic research in Europe. This made it easy for me to accept the position of Vice-President and to strive to contribute through that role, Jansen says.

Taking up duties on 1st January 2023, Eystein Jansen will be responsible for ERC activities in the Physical Sciences and Engineering domain whilst Prof. Jesper Svejstrup will oversee the Life Sciences domain. The current Vice-President for Social Sciences and Humanities domain, Prof. Eveline Crone, will continue her mandate.

– We’ve seen many times, with the green deal, with health innovations and with new digital solutions, that real innovation is driven by basic and frontier research. I’m very happy that the guidelines of the ERC aligns with this, with a focus on basic and frontier research, says Eystein Jansen.

– Often, politicians seem to favour applied and mission-oriented research. For politicians, this is often considered a more secure path to knowledge. And of course, this research also has its place. But it is not correct that gains are higher from mission-oriented research. For instance, basic research is often more likely to result in patents than applied research does.

Challenging decades ahead

Curiosity has always been a driving force for Eystein Jansen. As for many Norwegians, he’s been fond of the great outdoors from an early age. In fact, it was one of the reasons he was inspired to embark on a career as a climate scientist.

– In my youth, I often wondered how the varied landscapes of Norway had been created. This led me to research the effects of earlier climate periods, and the effect these had on landscape formation. When I started out, climate research was not considered quite the “hot” field that it is now, but by the end of the 1980’s evidence started to mount that CO2 emissions were about to create a new era of climate change, says Eystein Jansen.

The ERC Executive Agency and Scientific Council, where Eystein Jansen now serves as Vice-President of the Physical Sciences and Engineering domain.

The ERC Scientific Council, where Eystein Jansen now serves as Vice-President of the Physical Sciences and Engineering domain.

– In the big picture, can you find reasons for optimism?

– I am an optimist by nature, but I recognize that the coming decades will be extremely challenging. Turning evidence-based decisions into actions, as well as adapting to new realities, will be of the utmost importance, says the AE-Bergen Hub director.

Prior to his appointment as ERC Vice-President, Eystein Jansen was known as the Founding Director for the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, established in 2000. Jansen stayed on as Director until 2013, building the Bjerknes Centre into a large multidisciplinary climate research centre, now ranking as internationally renowned.

Science diplomacy

– In Academia Europaea, you are both a Hub Director and a Trustee. What challenges do you see for AE in the coming years?

– Unless the pandemic takes new forms again, one of the main threats, both to society and to science in the coming years, will be the war in Ukraine. Whatever solutions may come, the war will have consequences for many years. It will affect science particularly in the fields of international cooperation and science diplomacy. Both these areas are cornerstones in the work of Academia Europaea.

– For the AE-Bergen Hub, Arctic issues and research is a strategic priority. Traditionally, the Arctic has been a good example of an area with low barriers to cooperation between Russia and the rest of the world. In the short term, this will now be very difficult.

– Working together with SAPEA, Academia Europaea have been investigating ways to achieve a systemic approach to the energy transition in Europe. Energy has now become a part of warfare, putting extra pressure on energy policy. In my view, these situations increase the need for evidence-based policy, and for courageous politicians.

In the coming years, the AE-Bergen Hub will have to share Eystein Jansen’s capacities with the ERC.

– I will not have any direct influence on project grants from my position as Vice-President, so the position is maybe not quite as powerful as some people would imagine. My main responsibility will be in appointing members of evaluation panels, ensuring that they are all experts in their fields, Eystein Jansen says.

Involvement of AE in sustainability efforts increase as permanent working group is planned

The work of the Academia Europaea Task Force on Environment, Climate and Sustainability over the last year, was presented during a plenary session during the Building Bridges Annual Conference. Among the suggestions of the Task Force is for AE to set up a Permanent Working Group on Environment, Sustainability and Climate (PWGESC).
Academia Europaea Task Force on Environment, Climate and Sustainability

The Task Force recommends that the Permanent Working Group (PWGESC) should consist of a core group of less than 10 people, two to three members per topic.

The Task Force has been chaired by Verena Winiwarter, who also presented the work at the Annual Conference. Deputy Chair has been Poul Holm with Peter Wagner as a member for Class A1, Eystein Jansen and Nebojsa Nakicenovic as members for Class B, and Patricia Holm and Jane Hill as members from Class C.

AE-Bergen and Hub Manager Kristin Bakken have facilitated the work of the Task Force, but further administrative resources will be needed for the Permanent Working Group.

– The Task Force sees the need for a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach. They suggest the topics for the Permanent Working Group to not be pre-framed by the specialties of members, Peter Wagner said during the presentation.

– The Permanent Task Force should also seek cooperation and communication with other Academies, seeking to not duplicate efforts done by others, but rather cooperate, Task Force Chair Verena Winiwarter said.

Interdisciplinary issue

– There are many links between topics important for sustainability issues, such as food and energy. The interdisciplinary nature of the issue indicates the Permanent Working Group should be formed across the different classes of the Academy, a thinking that also should inform future events, Jane Hill added.

The Task Force recommends that the Permanent Working Group (PWGESC) should consist of a core group of less than 10 people, two to three members per topic.

From the survey conducted by the Task Force, it is clear that AE members want AE to provide a distinctive, yet interdisciplinary approach, linking climate change, ecosystem transitions and human society transitions, with inputs across the four classes of AE.

Activities suggested by members were research-based policy reports, public debates, and expert hearings.

Academic Director Eystein Jansen is elected Vice President of the European Research Council (ERC)

The Academic Director  of The Academia Europaea Bergen Knowledge Hub, Prof. Eystein Jansen is elected Vice President of the European Research Council (ERC).
Eystein Jansen Academic Director is the Academic Director of the AE-Bergen Knowledge Hub. Photo: ERC.

Eystein Jansen Academic Director is elected Vice President of the European Research Council (ERC). Photo: ERC.

Eystein Jansen will be responsible for the ERC activities in the Physical Sciences and Engineering domain from January 1th 2023, replacing Prof. Andrzej Jajszczyk. From the same date, Prof. Jesper Svejstrup will oversee the Life Sciences domain, replacing Prof. Nektarios Tavernarakis.

Eystein Jansen holds a PhD in Earth Science from the University of Bergen, where he has been a Professor of palaeoclimatology since 1993. Jansen was the founding director of the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, a world-leading centre on climate dynamics, which he led for 13 years. Jansen is presently the Academic Director for the Academia Europaea Bergen Knowledge Hub and is vice director for the interdisciplinary SapienCE Centre on Early Sapiens behaviour at the University of Bergen.

Author on 2 IPCC reports

Jansen is a member of Academia Europaea, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Norwegian Academy of Technological Sciences and the Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research. He was the coordinating lead author in the 4th (2007) and lead author in the 5th (2013) Assessment Reports of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Jansen was in 2019 awarded the Brøgger prize for lifelong contributions to geological sciences and the Meltzer prize for excellence in research.

His research has primarily dealt with the influence of changes in ocean circulation on climate and on natural climate changes of the past and present, with key contributions to understanding the evolution of ice ages and abrupt climate change. 2014-2019 he is the principal investigator of an ERC Synergy Grant, ice2ice, on abrupt climate changes. He has also served as a member of ERC’s panel for Advanced Grants.

More on both the new Vice Presidents in the ERC press release.