The Nobel Prize for Medicine goes to the Swedish Svante Pääbo, hunter of prehistoric DNA

published on Monday, October 03, 2022 at 5:50 p.m.

The Nobel Prize in Medicine was crowned on Monday by the pioneer of paleogenomics, the Swedish Svante Pääbo, for the complete sequencing of the Neanderthal man’s genome and the foundation of this discipline that goes back to the DNA of the back of time to illuminate the human being genes today.

“By revealing the genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, their discoveries have provided the basis for exploring what makes us humans unique,” the Nobel jury said.

Thanks to the sequencing of a bone found in Siberia in 2008, the 67-year-old Swede also revealed the existence of another different and previously unknown hominin, Denisova man, who lived in present-day Russia and Asia.

Based in Germany for decades -he works at the prestigious Max-Planck Institute for Fundamental Research-, Svante Pääbo discovered in 2009 that a gene transfer of the order of 2% had occurred between these extinct hominids, such as the Neanderthal, and Homo sapiens. .

This ancient gene flow to modern humans has had a physiological impact on modern humans, for example by affecting how their immune systems respond to infections.

Thus, their work had recently shown that Covid-19 patients carrying a segment of Neanderthal DNA, particularly in Europe, and most notably in South Asia, inherited a crossover with the human genome around 60,000 years ago, have more likely to have serious complications from the disease.

“Genetic differences between Homo Sapiens and our now-extinct closest relatives were unknown until identified through Pääbo’s work,” the Nobel committee praised in its decision.

The Swedish researcher has been able to overcome the difficulties posed by the degradation of DNA over time: after thousands of years, only traces remain, also largely contaminated by bacteria or modern human traces.

In an interview with the Nobel Foundation, the paleogeneticist said he was “swallowing his last sip of tea” when he got the phone call from Stockholm.

“I really didn’t think (his findings) would qualify me for a Nobel Prize,” he said.

Neanderthal man cohabited for a time with modern man in Europe before disappearing completely around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, supplanted by Sapiens, with African roots.

“The last 40,000 years are unique in human history, as we are the only living form of humans. Before that, there were almost always other types of humans,” M. Pääbo said on Thursday.

A native of Stockholm, he had been considered for a Nobel Prize for a long time. But he had dropped off the favorites list in recent years.

The Max-Planck Institute was delighted with its award, hailing work “that has revolutionized our understanding of the historical evolution of the modern human being.”

– Nobel and son of Nobel –

Svante Pääbo alone wins this scientific Nobel, endowed with a reward of 10 million crowns (about 920,000 euros). An increasingly rare feat, the last Medicine Nobel Prize for a single winner dates from 2016, for example.

The prize opens an unlikely dynasty: his father, Sune Bergström (1916-2004), also received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1982 for discovering prostaglandins.

He is actually the natural father of Svante, who in 2014 publicly explained that he is the secret fruit of an extramarital affair, hence their different names.

The Nobel harvest continues in Stockholm with physics on Tuesday and chemistry on Wednesday, before the much-anticipated literature prizes on Thursday and the peace prizes on Friday, the only prize awarded in Oslo. The most recent economic price closes the harvest next Monday.

Last year, the medicine prize went to two Americans, David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, for their discoveries about how touch works.

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