The 2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine has gone to the Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo, considered the father of paleogenetics for his discoveries about the genome of extinct hominids.
The Swedish biologist, Svante Pääbo, during an interview with EFE in 2019 in Alicante. EFE/Morell
The winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine led the project that deciphered the genome of Neanderthals and early prehistoric populations and received the Princess of Asturias Prize for Scientific Research in 2018.
According to the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Pääbo has established a completely new scientific discipline, paleogenomics. By revealing the genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominids, their discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human,” the Swedish Institute said.
Their findings have been used extensively by the scientific community to improve understanding of humans and have revealed that archaic genetic sequences of extinct hominids influence the psychology of modern men or the immunological response, highlighted the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the institution that awards the prize every year.
“Pääbo used existing technology and applied his own methods to extract and analyze ancient DNA, when it was considered impossible to recover DNA from 40,000 years ago,” Karolinska Assembly President Nils said at a press conference – Goran Larsson.
By the late 1990s, almost the entire human genome had been sequenced, making possible studies of the genetic relationship between human populations, but not between modern humans and extinct species, such as Neanderthals, which disappeared about 30,000 years.
Pääbo (Stockholm, 1955), who had obtained his doctorate at the Swedish University of Uppsala in 1986 with a thesis on molecular immunology, soon became interested in the possibility of applying modern genetics to the study of the DNA of neanderthals
A researcher of human evolution
Svante Pääbo (Stockholm, 1955) is director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) and is considered one of the founders of paleogenetics, a discipline with which he has shown that humans have between a 1 and a 4 percent of genetic material from other species.
He was the first scientist to show that modern humans interbred and mixed with Neanderthals.
Before collecting the Princess of Asturias Award in 2018, he said in a press conference that he was convinced that it will be impossible to sequence the genome of australopithecus, dinosaurs or beings that lived millions of years ago, and that it will also not be possible to recreate species extinct from fossils.
“We will never recreate complete species because it is very difficult to engineer with stem cells to achieve this,” said today this well-known geneticist who, however, would like to be wrong once more.
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine went to Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discovery of temperature and touch receptors, revealing how stimuli are transmitted to the nervous system, which has led to the development of treatments for acute pain and chronic
Son of another Medicine Nobel
The scientific vocation comes from the family of Svante Pääbo, son of the Estonian chemist Karin Pääbo and the Swedish biochemist Sune Bergström, who in turn won the Nobel Prize in Medicine forty years ago, shared with two other researchers, for their work on prostaglandins
In addition to the Nobel Prize in Medicine 2022, Pääbo treasures other important awards such as the Gottfried Leibniz of the Society of German Researchers (1992), the Darwin-Wallace medal, in addition to the Princess of Asturias Prize for Scientific and Technical Research 2018.
Larsson, president of the Karolinska Assembly emphasized the importance of Pääbo’s work. It is “really a great discovery” with repercussions in daily life, since it “lays the foundations for having a deeper knowledge about the characteristics that are specific to modern humans” and in the future it will give “great knowledge about human physiology”.
Faced with a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, as this category is exactly called, which can be surprising, Larsson considered that surprising “is good. We want to surprise people with a good prize and this is a great fundamental discovery”.
Winning the Nobel will net Sääbo 10 million Swedish kroner (€916,000, $882,000).
Sääbo succeeds the American David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, distinguished in 2021 for the discovery of receptors for temperature and touch, on the list of Medicine Prize winners.