An exceptional 67-year-old scientist from Sweden, Svante Paabo has emerged as the 2022 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine after extracting DNA from the bones of a 40,000-year-old dead body.
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Svante Paabo who has been working on the discovery project for decades was not only able to extract DNA from the 40,000-year-old human bones but was also able to sequence the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans.
Svante Paabo was able to establish that gene transfer occurred between extinct hominins and homo sapiens, giving rise to to an entirely new scientific discipline; paleogenomics.
According to the Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine and a Professor in Medical Biochemistry for the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Dr Nils-Goran Larsson, what Paabo’s work achieved had been considered impossible.
According to a statement on the Nobel Prize organization’s website, Paabo won the prize “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution.”
“Paabo’s seminal research gave rise to an entirely new scientific discipline; paleogenomics. 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 statement added.
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Speaking on Paabo’s discovery, the Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine and a Professor in Medical Biochemistry for the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Dr Nils-Goran Larsson, said what Paabo’s work achieved had been considered impossible.
“Well, it does tell us that we are very closely related, first of all, and we are so closely related that they have contributed quite directly, 50, 60 thousand years ago, DNA to the ancestors of most people today, those who have their roots outside Africa. And that variation that, sort of, those variants do have an influence, and influence many things in our physiology today,” he said.
Questioned on if the discovery would change how humans viewed themselves today, Dr Nils-Goran said; “In some sense, I do think it does so, the sort of realisation that until quite recently, maybe 14 hundred generations or so ago there were other forms of humans around and they mixed with our ancestors and have contributed to us today.”
“The fact that the last 40 thousand years are unique in human history, in that we are the only form of humans around. Until that time, there were almost always other types of humans that existed,” he added.
Professor Svante Paabo who felt excited about the win explained that he did not think that his work would qualify for a Nobel and never expected a call from the Nobel Committee.
“So I was just gulping down the last cup of tea to go and pick up my daughter at her nanny where she has had an overnight stay. And then I got this call from Sweden and I of course thought it had something to do with our little summer house… I thought the lawn mower had broken down or something,” he narrated.
67-year-old Paabo is one of the founders of paleogenetics and a professor at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan.