Nobel prize in medicine awarded to geneticist who sequenced Neanderthal genome

The 2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology has been awarded to Svante Paabo for his discoveries about the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution, the prize-giving organization announced on Monday.

“The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Svante Paabo for his discoveries concerning the genome of extinct hominins and human evolution,” read the Nobel Prize’s statement.

2022 Nobel Laureate Svante Paabo found that gene transfer had occurred from the now extinct hominins to Homo sapiens. This ancient flow of genes into modern humans has physiological relevance today, for example affecting how our immune system responds to infections, the statement said.

Svante Paabo has established a completely new scientific discipline, paleogenomics. By revealing genetic differences that separate all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human.

Through his pioneering research, Svante Paabo achieved something that seemed impossible: sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of today’s humans. He also made the sensational discovery of a previously unknown hominin, Denisova, entirely from genome data taken from a small finger bone specimen.

Importantly, Paabo also found that gene transfer had occurred from these now-extinct hominins to Homo sapiens after the migration from Africa about 70,000 years ago, the statement said.

Svante Paabo is a Swedish geneticist specializing in the field of evolutionary genetics who was recruited to the University of Munich in 1990, whereas a newly appointed professor he continued his work with ancient DNA.

Earlier in 2020, David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian jointly won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.

David Julius used capsaicin, a pungent compound from chili peppers that produces a burning sensation, to identify a sensor in the skin’s nerve endings that responds to heat.

Ardem Patapoutian used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a new class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs. These groundbreaking discoveries launched intense research activities that led to a rapid increase in understanding of how the nervous system senses heat, cold, and mechanical stimuli.

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