Svante Paabo, a Swedish scientist, was given the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for his research on the evolution of humans, which shed light on our immune system and what distinguishes us from our extinct ancestors.
A Swedish geneticist with a focus on evolutionary genetics, Svante Pääbo. He was one of the pioneers of paleogenetics and put a lot of effort into understanding Neanderthal DNA. In 1997, he was named the department’s director at the Leipzig, Germany-based Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He also teaches at Japan’s Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.
One of the pioneers of paleogenetics, which uses genetic techniques to examine early humans and other extinct populations, is Pääbo. Pääbo and colleagues successfully sequenced Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) using a sample from the Feldhofer grotto in the Neander valley. They published their findings in 1997.
Findings about the “language gene,” FOXP, which is absent or damaged in particular people with language impairments, were reported by Pääbo’s department in August 2002.
Nobel Winning Discoveries
The genomes of modern humans and other hominins, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, could be compared thanks to innovative methods pioneered by Paabo.
Although Neanderthal bones were initially discovered in the middle of the 19th century, it was not until their DNA, often known as the “code of life,” was unlocked that scientists could completely comprehend the relationships between species.
According to research, the split between modern humans and Neanderthals occurred about 800,000 years ago, according to Anna Wedell, chair of the Nobel Committee.
In a surprise discovery, Paabo and his team discovered that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens had interbred, proving that they had offspring together while living side by side.
Because of this gene exchange between hominin species, modern humans’ immune systems respond differently to illnesses like the coronavirus. 1-2 percent of people outside of Africa carry Neanderthal DNA.
Additionally, Paabo and his team successfully obtained DNA from a bit of finger bone discovered in a cave in Siberia, allowing them to identify a brand-new species of prehistoric humans named Denisovans.
This “sensational discovery,” in Wedell’s words, this ” sensational discovery ” revealed Neanderthals and Denisovans to be sibling populations that split from one another roughly 600,000 years ago. Up to 6% of contemporary humans in Asia and Southeast Asia have Denisovan genes, proving that interbreeding also occurred there.
After leaving Africa, homo sapiens interbred with them and acquired sequences that increased their chances of surviving in their new habitats, according to Wedell. For instance, Tibetans and Denisovans share a gene that facilitates their adaptation to high altitudes.
According to Nils-Göran Larsson, a member of the Nobel Assembly, “Svante Pääbo had uncovered the genetic makeup of our nearest cousins, the Neanderthals, and the Denison hominins” when the news broke.
And the slight variations between these extinct human forms and modern humans will reveal crucial details about how our bodies work and how our brains have evolved.
Paabo claimed he was surprised to find out about his victory on Monday.
As I was about to finish the last cup of tea and leave to pick up my daughter from her nanny after an overnight visit, I received a call from Sweden. Of course, I assumed it was due to our small summer home. I assumed the lawn mower had broken down or something, he remarked in an interview featured on the Nobel Prizes’ official home page.
He imagined what would have happened if Neanderthals had lived for an additional 40,000 years. Would racism toward Neanderthals become worse since they were inherently different from us? When there are other types of humans there who are similar to us but still different, would we perceive our place in the living universe somewhat differently?
David Reich Response
Geneticist David Reich of Harvard Medical School expressed his delight that the committee recognized the study of ancient DNA, which he was concerned may “slip between the cracks.”
According to Reich, Paabo and his colleagues invented a brand-new method for resolving historical mysteries by realizing that DNA may be stored for tens of thousands of years and creating methods to extract it. This research served as the foundation for ancient DNA research’s “explosive expansion” in recent years.
According to Reich, our concept of human diversity and history has been completely reconstructed.
It was “a terrific day for genomics,” a relatively new subject initially recognized in 1987, according to Dr. Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.
According to Green, the 1990–2003 Human Genome Project “gave us the first sequencing of the human genome, and we’ve enhanced that sequence ever since.” Since then, researchers have created new, more affordable, susceptible techniques for sequencing DNA.
According to Green, it only contains “vanishingly little amounts” of DNA when you sequence DNA from a fossil that is millions of years old. One of Paabo’s discoveries was how to harvest and preserve these minute amounts of DNA in the lab. The Human Genome Project’s human sequencing was then placed against fragments of the Neanderthal genome sequence.
In 2009, Paabo’s group released the preliminary version of a Neanderthal genome. After battling deterioration and bacterial contamination in a small bone sample, the team could sequence more than 60% of the entire genome.
“We should always be proud of the fact that we sequenced our genome. But it’s imposing that we can travel back in time and decode the genome of an organism that isn’t alive today but is closely related to humans, Green added.
The award, according to Katerina Harvati-Papatheodorou, a professor of paleoanthropology at the University of Tübingen in Germany, also emphasizes how crucial it is to comprehend human evolution to learn about modern human health.
In an email to the media, she stated, “The most recent example is the finding that genes acquired from our Neanderthal cousins… can have ramifications for one’s vulnerability to COVID infections.”
Other Nobel Prize Announcement
A week of Nobel Prize announcements began with the award for medical research. Tuesday’s reward is for physics, followed by Wednesdays for chemistry and Thursdays for literature. The economics prize will be awarded on October 10, while the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday.
David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian received the award for medicine last year for their research into how the body experiences touch and warmth.
The cash awards for the prizes total 10 million Swedish kronor, or roughly $900,000. They will be distributed on December 10. The funds originate from a gift made by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish inventor who founded the award and died in 1895.