Svante Pääbo Wins Nobel Prize For Discoveries Concerning Extinct Hominins’ Genomes, Human Evolution

Svante Pääbo Wins Nobel Prize For Discoveries Concerning Extinct Hominins’ Genomes, Human Evolution

October 10, 2022

Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo has won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution.

Through his pioneering research, Svante Pääbo accomplished something seemingly impossible: sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans. He also made the sensational discovery of a previously unknown hominin, Denisova. Importantly, Pääbo also found that gene transfer had occurred from these now extinct hominins to Homo sapiens following the migration out of Africa around 70,000 years ago.

“This ancient flow of genes to present-day humans has physiological relevance today, for example affecting how our immune system reacts to infections,” the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet said in a press release.

Pääbo’s seminal research gave rise to an entirely new scientific discipline, known as paleogenomics. By revealing genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human.

As a postdoctoral student with Allan Wilson, a pioneer in the field of evolutionary biology, Pääbo started to develop methods to study DNA from Neanderthals, an endeavor that lasted several decades.

“Thanks to Svante Pääbo’s discoveries, we now understand that archaic gene sequences from our extinct relatives influence the physiology of present-day humans”, said the Nobel Assembly, consisting of 50 professors at Karolinska Institutet. “One such example is the Denisovan version of the gene EPAS1, which confers an advantage for survival at high altitude and is common among present-day Tibetans. Other examples are Neanderthal genes that affect our immune response to different types of infections,” the award committee added.

Stockholm native Paabo, 67, became Professor at the University of Munich, Germany, in 1990. In 1999 he founded the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where he is still active. He also holds a position as adjunct Professor at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan.

Paabo will be awarded 10 million Swedish kronor, or $0.89 million, as prize money.

Thomas Perlmann, Secretary-General of the Nobel Assembly, announced the winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine, Monday.

With this, the Nobel Prize season for 2022 has started. Announcements of laureates in other Nobel Prize categories will run through October 10.

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