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Nobel Prize goes to Geneticist: Svante Pääbo wins for Neanderthal work

Svante Pääbo of Sweden received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on human evolution.

The Nobel committee for Physiology or Medicine awarded the field’s top prize on Monday to Svante Paabo, a Swedish geneticist, for his work on human evolution. Svante determined how to extract and analyze DNA from 40,000-year-old Neanderthal bones.

The Nobel Prize committee said he accomplished the seemingly impossible task of deciphering the genetic code of one of our extinct relatives, Neanderthals.

He also made the “sensational” discovery of discovering the previously unknown relative – Denisovans.

Pääbo’s decades of research have made it possible for scientists to begin exploring the differences between today’s modern humans and our ancestors and how we spread around the planet.

The Swedish geneticist’s work gets to the heart of some of the most fundamental questions, such as where we came from and what allowed us, Homo sapiens, to thrive while our relatives went extinct.

In the 1990s, research on working out the human genetic code was taking place at pace. However, that relied on fresh samples of pristine DNA.

Pääbo, 67, has spent decades developing and perfecting new methods for extracting Neanderthal DNA, which is an extremely complex and challenging process. Svante’s interest was in old, degraded, and contaminated genetic material from our ancestors. Though it seemed an impossible task, however, his decade’s dedication made it possible to sequence DNA from a 40,000-year-old bone for the first time.

These findings demonstrated that Neanderthals, who lived primarily in Europe and Western Asia, were distinct from both modern humans and chimpanzees.

His research centered on hominins, a group of modern humans that includes Homo sapiens, our extinct relatives, and us.

The Nobel committee said, “By revealing genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human”.

Further comparisons of Neanderthal DNA with humans from around the world revealed that their DNA was more similar to humans from Europe or Asia.

His finding also suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans had children together during periods when they co-existed. Today, most modern humans share between 1 and 4 percent of their DNA with Neanderthals.

Image credits: BBC news

The following seismic contribution to human origins occurred in 2008. Scientists discovered a 40,000-year-old finger bone in Siberia’s Denisova cave.

Prof Paabo was able to sequence a DNA sample, and the results revealed that it was a previously unknown hominin called Denisovans.

Prof Pääbo only found out this morning when Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, called him.

“He was speechless because he was overwhelmed. I’m overjoyed, “Prof. Perlmann stated.

Prof Paabo is regarded as one of the founders of the scientific field of paleogenomics. He WINS a prize of 10 million Swedish kronor (£800,000). Sune Bergstrom, his father, was awarded the same Nobel Prize in 1982. This is the eighth time that a Nobel laureate’s child has won the Nobel Prize

His research shows that when Homo sapiens spread from Africa, there were two distinct groups of hominins (Neanderthals and Denisovans) living in Eurasia.

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