Nobel Prize goes to Svante Paabo for Neanderthal workon October 3, 2022 at 10:37 am

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Sweden’s Svante Paabo wins the prize for discoveries on humanity’s extinct relatives.


The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has gone to Sweden’s Svante Paabo for his work on human evolution.

The Prize committee said he achieved the seemingly impossible task of cracking the genetic code of one of our extinct relatives – Neanderthals.

He also performed the “sensational” feat of discovering the previously unknown relative – Denisovans.

His work helped explore our own evolutionary history and how humans spread around the planet.

The Swedish geneticist’s work gets to the heart of some of the most fundamental questions – where do we come from and what allowed us, Homo sapiens, to succeed while our relatives went extinct.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

In the 1990s, research on working out the human genetic code was taking place at pace. But that relied on fresh samples of pristine DNA.

Prof Paabo’s interest was in the old and degraded genetic material from our ancestors. He was, for the first time, able to sequence DNA from a 40,000-year-old piece of bone.

Those results showed that Neanderthals – who mostly lived in Europe and Western Asia – were distinct from both modern day humans and chimpanzees.

His work focused on hominins – the group of modern humans that includes us, Homo sapiens, but also our extinct relatives.

“By revealing genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human”, the Nobel committee said.

Further comparisons between Neanderthal DNA and humans from around the world showed their DNA was a closer matcher to humans coming from Europe or Asia.

This tells us that Homo sapiens had sex and children with Neanderthals after migrating out of Africa around 70,000 years ago.

And you can still see the legacy of that today. Between 1-4% of modern human DNA comes from our Neanderthal relatives and this even affects our body’s ability to respond to infection.

Cave finger

The next seismic contribution to human origins came in 2008. Scientists had found a 40,000-year-old finger bone in the Denisova cave, in Siberia.

Prof Paabo was able to sequence a sample of DNA and the results showed it was a previously unknown hominin – known as Denisovan.

And it turned out Homo sapiens bred with these Denisovans too. In parts of South East Asia up to 6% of people’s DNA is Denisovan.

Prof Paabo only heard the news this morning when he was called by Thomas Perlmann, the secretary for the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine.

“He was overwhelmed, he was speechless. Very happy,” said Prof Perlmann.

He wins the 10m Swedish kronor (£800,000) prize.

Follow James on Twitter


Previous winners

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.
- Advertisement -




Markets up after Bank of England bond-buying pledgeon September 29, 2022 at 3:23 am

The central bank said it will buy £65bn of government bonds after the mini-budget sparked market turmoil.Image source, Getty ImagesStock markets in Asia and...

Australia borders: Citizens living overseas could be ‘trapped’ if they returnon August 6, 2021 at 4:17 am

Australians who live overseas will require exemptions to leave Australia if they return home.image sourceGetty ImagesAustralians living overseas could be "trapped" in Australia if...

Fiji shock Australia in World Cupon September 17, 2023 at 6:37 pm

Fiji beat Australia for just the third time in their history and blow Pool C wide open with a thrilling win at the Rugby...

Does football need a 60-minute ‘stop-clock’?on May 6, 2022 at 1:07 pm

Following a controversial end to Real Madrid's Champions League win over Manchester City, BBC Sport uses Opta data to look at ball in play...

Leicester’s 100% record ends with defeat at Waspson January 9, 2022 at 5:33 pm

Leicester Tigers' 100% Premiership record ends at Wasps, who cling on for an impressive win.