Swedish Geneticist Svante Pääbo Wins Nobel Prize In Medicine

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The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Svante Pääbo, a Swedish geneticist. It was given for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution.

Swedish Geneticist Svante Pääbo Wins Nobel Prize In Medicine
Svante Pääbo

The Nobel Prizes are awarded annually and recognizes breakthroughs in various fields.

Svante Paabo won a Nobel Prize. His research was particularly groundbreaking because he was able to decipher the DNA of the Neanderthal which had been extinct for thousands of years.

Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans,” the Nobel committee said in a statement.

“Pääbo’s discoveries have generated new understanding of our evolutionary history,” the statement said, adding that this research had helped establish the burgeoning science of “paleogenomics,” or the study of genetic material from ancient pathogens.

Nils-Göran Larsson, a professor in medical biochemistry for the Karolinska Institute in Solna, Sweden, said that Dr. Pääbo had used existing technology to extract and analyze the ancient DNA.

Dr. Larsson found that taking DNA from 40,000 year old bones is possible and will allow him to compare changes between contemporary Homo sapiens and ancient hominins. With this information he can learn more about human physiology.

Anna Wedell, a professor of medical genetics at the Karolinska Institute, said that Dr. Pääbo’s findings combined with machine learning allow us to address one of the most fundamental questions of all: What makes us unique?

Dr. Pääbo found Denisova, a hidden human DNA. The team discovered that human/Denisova interbreeding event occurred as recently as 70,000 years ago and was significant in understanding immunity.

Pääbo’s father, Sune Bergström, was a Swedish biochemist who shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine

Dr. Pääbo, who was overseas when he found out about the Prize, “was speechless”, said Thomas Perlmann when discussing the award.

Modern methods of extracting DNA from mummies piqued Dr. Pääbo’s interest in the beginning of his research career.

This evolutionary biologist was a pioneer in the evolving field of paleogenomics. He spent a lot of time figuring out how to extract and analyze DNA from animals, but he wanted to do more.

He says in his autobiography, “Neanderthal Man,” that he longed to bring new rigor to the study of human history by investigating DNA sequence variation in ancient humans.

The researchers have been puzzled by the fossils of Neanderthals since they were discovered in a German quarry in 1856. In 2010, Dr. Pääbo achieved renown when he and his research team presented the first sequencing of the entire Neanderthal genome.

The Neanderthals, who lived thousands of years ago in parts of Europe and Asia, had larger sized brains and used advanced tools to hunt large mammals. Dr. Pääbo’s genome sequence helped settle many questions surrounding their relationship to modern-day humans.

Humans share many similarities. For example, “It’s a basic scientific discovery” (Dr Larsson). Both humans and extinct hominins are anatomically modern. There are very few differences between them, which was discovered only recently.

Problems such as degraded DNA and oxidized bone are a common occurrence in archeology. These factors make it hard to find accurate DNA and reconstruct fossils, which makes it difficult for scientists to reproduce past organisms.

Kolbert refers to how the process of DNA sequencing is like a “Manhattan telephone book reassembled from pages that have been put through a shredder and mixed with yesterday’s trash.”


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