1664792535 Svante Paabo receives the Nobel Prize in Medicine after sequencing

Svante Pääbo receives the Nobel Prize in Medicine after sequencing the first Neanderthal genome

London CNN —

Svante Pääbo has received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for “his discoveries on the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution,” it has been announced.

The Nobel Committee said Monday that Pääbo, a Swedish geneticist, “achieved something seemingly impossible” when he sequenced the first Neanderthal genome and discovered that Homo sapiens interbred with Neanderthals.

Evidence for his discovery first surfaced in 2010 after Pääbo pioneered methods to extract, sequence and analyze ancient DNA from Neanderthal bones. Thanks to his work, scientists can compare Neanderthal genomes with the genetic records of humans living today.

“Pääbo’s pioneering research has spawned an entirely new scientific discipline; Paleogenomics,” the committee said. “By uncovering genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human.”

When he first revealed his findings in 2010, Pääbo said that “a first version of the Neanderthal genome fulfills a long-held dream.”

Pääbo pioneered the extraction, sequencing, and analysis of ancient DNA from Neanderthal bones.

Pääbo has been Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, since 1997 and is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Natural History Museum in London.

“His main contribution is being a pioneer in recovering ancient DNA, and that has been extremely important in the study of human evolution,” Chris Stringer, research director of human evolution at that museum, told CNN on Monday.

In addition to the Neanderthal genome, he also “discovered the Denisova people — a whole new kind of people,” Stringer said. The Denisovan DNA lives on in some humans today because when our Homo sapien ancestors encountered the Denisovans, they had sex with them and gave birth to children—something geneticists call admixture.

“I think the Neanderthal genome was his single greatest contribution. It turned out that Neanderthals interbred with us. This has been denied for years, including me. But he showed that most of us have ancient DNA (from Neanderthals and/or Denisovans). This DNA may also be medically important,” Stringer added.