Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to biologist Svante Paabo

Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to biologist Svante Pääbo

Every year, Nobel Prize week begins with the announcement of the prize in physiology or medicine on Monday in Stockholm. And the decision of the Nobel Prize Committee comes as a surprise in the third year of the pandemic. The award goes to Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo. Pääbo was honored “for his discoveries about the genomes of the ancestors of modern humans and human evolution,” the statement said. For example, he managed to sequence the genome of Neanderthals. He was also able to identify another genus of our ancestors, the Denisovans. Pääbo’s father, Sune Bergström, was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1982.

Pääbo is considered one of the pioneers of what is known as paleogenetics. He was able to isolate and analyze this very, very ancient hominid DNA. The question behind his work is: “What distinguishes us as homo sapiens from our ancestors? What makes us unique?”, the committee explained in the rationale.

The winner’s reaction

Thomas Perlman, chairman of the medical committee, says of Pääbo’s reaction to his award: “He was impressed, speechless and very happy. He asked me if he could tell his wife.” The call reached Pääbo in Leipzig, where he is one of the five directors of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of Leipzig.

As in 2021, Biontech founders Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin left empty-handed. They were also traded as favourites, as was Katalin Karikó. The Hungarian, who also works for Biontech, is considered one of the pioneers of mRNA technology, which she originally developed for cancer therapy.

Last year, the American researcher David Julius and the Lebanese molecular biologist Ardem Patapoutian were honored. They were awarded for their discoveries of human receptors for temperature and touch sensitivity. The prize money is SEK ten million (about €912,000) per category this year.

The rest of the Nobel Prize calendar

The physics winners will be announced on Tuesday and the chemistry winners on Wednesday. After the science prizes, the Nobel Prize for Literature will be presented as usual on Thursday, followed by the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Completion next Monday will be the savings award.

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