The Swedish Svante Pääbo was distinguished this Monday with the Medicine Nobel Prize for his studies on human evolution, which include the first sequencing of the genome of extinct hominids and genetic transfers between subspecies, in addition to creating a new discipline: the paleogenomics.
Their findings have been used extensively by the scientific community to improve understanding of the human being and have revealed that archaic genetic sequences of extinct hominids influence the psychology of modern men or the immune response, highlighted the Institute’s Nobel Assembly Karolinska in Stockholm, the institution that awards the award every year.
Pääbo used existing technology and applied its own methods to extract and analyze ancient DNA, when it was considered impossible to recover DNA from 40,000 years ago.”
Karolinska Assembly President Nils-Göran Larsson told a press conference.
Genetic relationship between human populations
By the end of the 1990s, almost the entire human genome had been sequenced, making possible studies of the genetic relationship between human populations, but not between modern humans, and extinct species, such as Neanderthals, which disappeared about 30,000 years ago. .
Pääbo (Stockholm, 1955), who had received his doctorate from the Swedish University of Uppsala in 1986 with work on molecular immunology, was soon interested in the possibility of applying modern genetics to the study of Neanderthal DNA.
make the impossible possible
During his doctorate in Berkeley (United States) in the group of Allan Wilson, a pioneer in evolutionary biology, he began to develop methods in this area to face a major challenge: after thousands of years, only small fragments of DNA remain, also contaminated by genetic material from bacteria and contemporary humans.
already working on the University of Munich (Germany), Pääbo decided to analyze DNA of mitochondria, cell organelles that contain their own DNA, present in thousands of copies, which allowed them to successfully sequence material from a 40,000-year-old bone for the first time.
The next step, developed at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig (Germany), was to sequence the entire genome of a Neanderthal, something that was achieved in 2010 and that made “what seemed impossible” possible, in the words of the Karolinska Institute.
This achievement made it possible to investigate the relationship between Neanderthals and modern-day humans, revealing, for example, that their DNA was more similar to that of men originating in Europe and Asia than that of Africa.
Pääbo and his team also discovered a hitherto unknown hominid named Denisovan from the sequencing from a sample of a little finger bone found in southern Siberia (Russia).
Comparisons with sequences of contemporary men from different continents showed that there had also been gene flow between Denisovans and Homo sapiens, a relationship verified for example in populations of Melanesia and other parts of Southeast Asia.
Revealing the genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from the extinct hominins, their discoveries provide the basis for exploiting what makes us uniquely human.”
stated in the ruling.
Son of another Nobel Prize in Medicine and winner of the Prince of Asturias
The scientific vocation runs in the family Svante Paabo, Estonian chemist’s son Karin Paabo and the Swedish biochemist Sune Bergstromwho in turn won the Medicine Nobel Prize forty years ago, shared with two other researchers, for their work on prostaglandins.
In addition to the award received today, Pääbo treasures other important awards such as the Gottfried Leibniz of the Society of German Researchers (1992), the medal Darwin–Wallace and the Princess of Asturias for Scientific and Technical Research 2018.
Larsson, president of the Karolinska Assembly highlighted the importance of Pääbo’s work. It is “really a great discovery” with repercussions in daily life, since “it establishes the bases to have a deeper knowledge about the characteristics that are specific to modern humans” and in the future it will give “great knowledge about human physiology”.
Faced with a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, as this category is exactly called, which can be surprising, Larsson considered that surprising “is good. We want to surprise people with good premise and this is a great fundamental discovery.”
SEK 10 million
Win the Nobel will report to Sääbo SEK 10 million (916,000 euros, 882,000 dollars).
Sääbo happens in the list of winners of the Medicine award to the Americans David Julius Y ardem Patapoutiandistinguished in 2021 for discovering the temperature and touch receptors.
with the prize in Medicine either Physiology The round of winners opens laureate of this year, which will continue tomorrow with the Physical and will continue on successive days, in this order, with those of Chemistry, Literature, Peace and Economy.
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