Swedish scientist Svante Paabo has won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries “concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”, the awarding body said.
“Through his pioneering research, Svante Paabo accomplished something seemingly impossible: sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans. He also made the sensational discovery of a previously unknown hominin, Denisova,” the Nobel committee said on Monday.
The jury highlighted that Paabo, the director of the department of genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology of Germany, had also discovered that gene transfer had occurred from these now extinct hominins to Homo sapiens following the migration out of Africa some 70,000 years ago.
“This ancient flow of genes to present-day humans has physiological relevance today, for example affecting how our immune system reacts to infections”, the jury said.
Moreover, COVID-19 patients with a snippet of Neanderthal DNA run a higher risk of severe complications from the disease, Paabo reported in a 2020 study.
Commenting on the Swedish scientist’s work, Juleen Zierath, from the Nobel Committee, told international media, Al Jazeera in Stockholm, that humankind has been interested in our origins forever, and Svante Praabo was able to solve part of that puzzle for us by sequencing the genome of some of our closest relatives – the Neanderthal and the Denisova.
“We now understand better what makes us unique from these close relatives,” he added.
Created in the will of Swedish inventor of dynamite and wealthy businessman Alfred Nobel, the prizes for achievements in science, literature, and peace have been awarded since 1901, with the economics prize a later addition.