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Nobel Prize awarded to Swede for unlocking secrets of Neanderthal DNA

Nobel Prize awarded to Swede for unlocking secrets of Neanderthal DNA


Leipzig, Germany — Swedish scientist Svante Paavo was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday. The discovery of human evolution that unlocked the secrets of Neanderthal DNA has helped us understand the uniqueness of humans and provided important insights into our immune system, including his severe vulnerability to COVID-19.

Techniques pioneered by Paabo allowed researchers to compare the genomes of modern humans with those of other humans, such as Denisovans and Neanderthals.

At a press conference held by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, he said: “We excavate the human genome in the same way that archaeological excavations are conducted to learn about the past.

Neanderthal bones were first discovered in the mid-19th century, but only by understanding their DNA, often called the code of life, can scientists fully understand the connections between species. I was.

This included the time around 800,000 years ago when modern humans and Neanderthals diverged as species.

“Paavo and his team surprisingly found that gene flow occurred from Neanderthals to Homo sapiens,” said Anna Wedel, chairman of the Nobel Committee. He indicated that they had a child together.

This interspecies gene transfer affects how modern humans’ immune systems respond to infectious diseases such as coronaviruses. Non-African people carry her 1-2% of Neanderthal genes. Neanderthals have never been in Africa, so their direct contribution to people in sub-Saharan Africa is unknown.

Paabo and his team have successfully extracted DNA from a tiny finger bone found in a Siberian cave, recognizing a new species of ancient hominin called the Denisovans.

Wedell calls it a “sensational discovery” that shows that Neanderthals and Denisovans were sister groups that split about 600,000 years ago. Denisovan genes have been found in up to 6% of modern humans in Asia and Southeast Asia, indicating that interbreeding took place there as well.

“Homo sapiens found sequences that improved their chances of survival in new environments by mingling with them after leaving Africa,” Wedell said. For example, Tibetans share genes with Denisovans that help them adapt to high altitudes.

Paabo said he was surprised to learn of his victory, and at first thought it was a clever prank by a colleague or a call about his villa.

“So I finished my last cup of tea and went to pick up my daughter and the nanny who was staying overnight, and I got a call from Sweden,” he said in an interview on the Nobel Prize homepage. “Of course, I thought it had something to do with our little summerhouse in Sweden.

He also wondered what would have happened if Neanderthals had lived another 40,000 years.

“The Neanderthals were really different from us in some ways, so would we see even greater racism against them? If morphological humans were out there, would they actually see our place in the living world in a completely different way?” he said.

Paavo, 67, has conducted award-winning research at the University of Munich and the Max Planck Institute.

After the press conference, during the celebration, colleagues threw Parvo into a puddle. Pääbo laughed with humor, jumping a little.

Scientists in the field applauded the Nobel Committee’s choice.

David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, said he fears and is excited that the field of ancient DNA “falls between the cracks.”

By recognizing that DNA can be stored for tens of thousands of years and developing methods to extract it, Parvo and his team have created a whole new way of answering questions about our past, Reich said. rice field.

Reich, who has been rewarded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports the Associated Press’ health sciences division, said he “completely reframed our understanding of human diversity and history.”

Dr. Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Laboratory at the US National Institutes of Health, called “a great day for genomics,” a relatively new field first named in 1987.

The Human Genome Project, which ran from 1990 to 2003, “provided the first sequence of the human genome, and we’ve been improving it ever since,” says Green.

Sequencing DNA from ancient fossils yields “a very small amount,” Green said. His one of Paabo’s innovations was coming up with a way to extract and store these small amounts. He was then able to place a fragment of the Neanderthal genome sequence against the Human Genome Project’s human sequencing.

Paabo’s team published the first draft of the Neanderthal genome in 2009, and after dealing with bacterial spoilage and contamination, sequenced more than 60% of the complete genome from a small sample of bones.

“We should always be proud of the fact that we have sequenced our own genome. It’s really amazing,” Green said.

During the pandemic, Paabo said, “we discovered that the greatest risk factor for becoming seriously ill and even dying when contracting the virus was transmitted from Neanderthals to modern humans. Others are now eagerly studying the Neanderthal and protective modern versions to understand what the functional differences are.”

Paabo’s father, Sune Bergstrom, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1982. It is his eighth time that a laureate’s son or daughter has won the Nobel Prize. In her book Neanderthals: In Search of the Lost Genome, Paavo describes herself as Bergstrom’s “secret illegitimate child” and even briefly mentioned it at her press conference.

The Nobel Prize announcement will follow on Tuesday, followed by the Physics Prize, the Chemistry Prize on Wednesday, and the Literature Prize on Thursday. The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday and the economics prize on October 10.

Last year’s winners were David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for discovering how the human body perceives temperature and touch.

The prize will be handed out on December 10th, with a cash prize of 10 million Swedish kronor (approximately $900,000). The prize money comes from a bequest left by its creator, the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.


Anger reported from Louisville, Kentucky. Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin, David Keyton from Stockholm, Sweden, and Maddie Burakoff from New York.


Follow all AP stories about the Nobel Prize at


The Associated Press’ Health Sciences Division is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Division. AP is solely responsible for all content.




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