Svante Pääbo Wins Nobel Prize for Medicine: What Is His Research on Evolution?

The Nobel Laureate, Geneticist Svante Paabo, discovered a previously unknown subspecies of humans, Denisova hominin.

3 min read

The prestigious Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the year 2022 was awarded to Svante Pääbo, on Monday, 3 October.

The Swedish geneticist was awarded the Nobel prize “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution."

Kicking off the Nobel Prize season, the announcement for the first award of the year was made by the Nobel Assembly at Stockholm, Sweden.

"Pääbo's work, revealed important new knowledge about our evolution and history," said the Nobel Assembly while presenting him with the award.

The awards are expected to go on till 10 October, when the highly anticipated Peace Prize will be announced.


What's the Focus Of Pääbo's Research

Svante Pääbo, is a Swedish-born Geneticist who is currently serving as the director of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

According to the Nobel Assembly, in his pioneering research, Pääbo successfully sequenced the genome of the Neanderthal – a forefather of present day humans that is now extinct.

He is also attributed with discovering the previously unknown subspecies of archaic humans called Denisova hominin.

Pääbo also discovered that there had been a gene transfer from the Denisova hominins to Homo sapiens, which points to the two subspecies procreating at some point while they coexisted.

The Nobel Laureate, Geneticist Svante Paabo, discovered a previously unknown subspecies of humans, Denisova hominin.

This discovery has significant relevance in shaping our knowledge of the difference in the physiology of present-day humans, especially when it comes to different immunities.

"As we learn more and more about genomes from different parts of the world, it's important to have these reference points that tell us about our terms of knowing more about our evolution, and of course medical implications."
Nobel Assembly at a press event

Speaking of Pääbo's specific contribution that won him the award, an Assembly representative said, "his big contribution which has been very decisive for this prize has been... in deciphering the ancient DNA. It was certainly considered to be impossible to recover DNA from 40,000 year old bones. He has worked stringently and devised chemical tricks to be able to analyse ancient DNA."

"He was overwhelmed, and very happy. He was incredibly thrilled with this award," they added when asked about Pääbo's reaction to being told he had won.

The Other Contenders For Nobel

The Nobel Assembly refuses to speak of the 'nominees' and those who were in the running for the award, but didn't win. However, here are some names that popped up often in chatter leading up to the announcement.

One of the contenders for the prestigious prize was Mary-Claire King, an American geneticist who was the first person to discover that the BRCA1 gene is responsible for a hereditary form of breast cancer, back in 1990.

Along with King, oncologists Dennis Slamon from the United States, and Axel Ullrich from Germany, were also possibly in the running for their research which helped develop the breast cancer drug Herceptin.

Considering the COVID-19 pandemic took over our lives and a major chunk of medical research was focused on it in the last two years, another strong contender for the prize was reportedly Hungarian biochemist Katalin Kariko. She is known for her ground breaking research that led to the development of the first mRNA vaccines to fight COVID-19, made by Pfizer and Moderna, reports said.

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