Swede who unlocked mysteries of Neanderthal DNA wins Nobel Prize in Medicine – Orange County Register

By FRANK JORDANS. LAURA UNGAR and MADDIE BURAKOFF | Associated Press

STOCKHOLM – Swedish scientist Svante Paabo on Monday won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discoveries about human evolution, which provided important insights into our immune systems and what makes us unique compared to our extinct cousins, the prize’s jury said.

Paabo has spearheaded the development of new techniques that have allowed researchers to compare the genomes of modern humans and those of other hominins – the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

While Neanderthal bones were first discovered in the mid-1800s, scientists could only fully understand the connections between species by decoding their DNA — often referred to as the code of life.

This included the time when modern humans and Neanderthals diverged as species, determined around 800,000 years ago, said Anna Wedell, Chair of the Nobel Committee.

“Paabo and his team also surprisingly found that gene flow had occurred from Neanderthals to Homo sapiens, showing that they had children together during periods of cohabitation,” she said.

This transfer of genes between hominin species affects how modern humans’ immune systems respond to infections like the coronavirus. About 1-2% of people outside of Africa have Neanderthal genes.

Thomas Perlmann, member of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, announces the winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Swedish scientist Svante Paabo, pictured on screen, during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden Monday, October 3, 2022. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency via AP)
Thomas Perlmann, member of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, announces the winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Swedish scientist Svante Paabo, pictured on screen, during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden Monday, October 3, 2022. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency via AP)

“Svante Päbo discovered the genetic makeup of our closest relatives, the Neanderthals and the Denison people,” Nils-Göran Larsson, a member of the Nobel Assembly, told the Associated Press after the announcement. “And the small differences between these extinct human forms and us as humans today will provide important insights into our bodily functions and how our brains evolved and so on.”

Paabo, 67, conducted his award-winning studies in Germany at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Paabo is the son of Sune Bergstrom, who received the 1982 Nobel Prize in Medicine. According to the Nobel Foundation, this is the eighth time that the son or daughter of a Nobel laureate has also received a Nobel Prize. Only once has a father-son duo shared the same Nobel Prize: in 1915, when Sir William Henry Bragg and his son William Laurence Bragg jointly won the physics prize.

Scientists in the field praised the Nobel Committee’s election this year.

David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, said he’s thrilled the group is honoring the field of ancient DNA, which he fears could “fall through the cracks.”

By realizing that DNA can be preserved for tens of thousands of years — and developing ways to extract it — Paabo and his team created a whole new way to answer questions about our past, Reich said. This work has been the basis for an “explosive growth” of studies of ancient DNA in recent decades.

“It completely reconfigured our understanding of human variation and human history,” Reich said, adding that Paabo “was the pioneer in this field more than anyone.”

https://www.ocregister.com/2022/10/03/nobel-win-for-swede-who-unlocked-secrets-of-neanderthal-dna/ Swede who unlocked mysteries of Neanderthal DNA wins Nobel Prize in Medicine – Orange County Register

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