The Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded for evolutionary research


Swedish scientist Svante Paabo smiles at the award ceremony at the Hamburg Kerber Foundation's European Science Prize, in Hamburg, Germany, Sept. 7, 2018. On Monday, Oct. 3, 2022 the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to Swedish scientist Svante Paabo for his discoveries on human evolution. Credit: Christian Charisius/dpa via AP
Swedish scientist Svante Paabo smiles at the award ceremony at the Hamburg Kerber Foundation's European Science Prize, in Hamburg, Germany, Sept. 7, 2018. On Monday, Oct. 3, 2022 the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to Swedish scientist Svante Paabo for his discoveries on human evolution. Credit: Christian Charisius/dpa via AP

Swedish scientist Svante Paabo was awarded this year's Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for his discoveries on human evolution that gave crucial insights into our immune system and what distinguishes us from our extinct ancestors, according to the award's judges. Paabo led the development of new tools that allowed researchers to compare the genomes of contemporary humans and other hominins such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. Svante Paabo's revolutionary discoveries, according to Nobel Committee chair Anna Wedell, have supplied a crucial new understanding of our evolutionary past.


While Neanderthal bones were discovered in the mid-19th century, scientists have only been able to fully comprehend the relationships between species by deciphering their DNA, also known as the code of life. This includes the time when modern humans and Neanderthals split as a species, which was judged to be 800,000 years ago.


Paabo and his colleagues also discovered gene flow from Neanderthals to Homo sapiens, showing that they had offspring together during times of co-existence, according to Wedell. This gene transfer across hominin species influences how contemporary humans' immune systems respond to diseases like the coronavirus. People living outside of Africa contain 1-2% Neanderthal DNA.


Paabo and his colleagues were also successful in extracting DNA from a little finger bone discovered in a cave in Siberia, resulting in the identification of a new species of ancient people known as Denisovans. Wedell regarded this as a startling discovery that revealed Neanderthals and Denisovans to be sibling tribes that parted 600,000 years ago. Denisovan genes have been discovered in up to 6% of modern people throughout Asia and Southeast Asia, indicating that interbreeding took place there as well.


According to Wedell, homo sapiens picked up sequences that boosted their chances of survival in their new habitats by mingling with them after migrating out of Africa. Tibetans, for example, share a gene with Denisovans that aids in their adaptation to high altitudes. We already know that it impacts our defenses against different sorts of illnesses, for example, or how we survive at high altitudes, according to Nils-Goran Larsson, a member of the Nobel panel. However, like with many big discoveries in basic science, more and more insights will be revealed over the coming decades.

Paabo, 67, studied evolutionary anthropology at the University of Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Sune Bergstrom, who earned the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1982, is Paabo's father. The Nobel Prize in Medicine started off a week of Nobel Prize announcements. The physics prize is awarded on Tuesday, followed by chemistry on Wednesday and literature on Thursday. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be revealed on Friday, while the economics prize will be given on October 10. David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were last year's medicine honorees for their insights into how the human body detects temperature and touch. The rewards are worth 10 million Swedish kronor (almost $900,000) and will be awarded on December 10. The money was left by the prize's originator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.


The Nobel Committee has issued a press release announcing the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.


The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet agreed today to award Svante Pääbo the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his findings on extinct hominin genomes and human evolution. The beginnings of humanity have long piqued humanity's interest. What is our origin, and how are we linked to those who came before us? What distinguishes Homo sapiens from other hominins?


Svante Pääbo performed the seemingly difficult task of decoding the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct cousin of modern humans, through his pioneering study. He also made the spectacular discovery of Denisova, a previously undiscovered hominid. Pääbo also discovered gene transmission from these now-extinct hominins to Homo sapiens during the migration out of Africa some 70,000 years ago. This old gene flow to modern humans has physiological implications, such as influencing how our immune system responds to illnesses


Svante Pääbo's pioneering study enabled him to do the seemingly impossible: sequence the DNA of the Neanderthal, an extinct cousin of modern humans. He also made the spectacular discovery of Denisova, a previously undiscovered hominid. Pääbo also discovered gene transmission from these now-extinct hominins to Homo sapiens during the migration out of Africa some 70,000 years ago. This old gene flow to modern humans has physiological implications, such as influencing how our immune system responds to illnesses. Pääbo's breakthrough work gave birth to a whole new scientific area, paleogenomics. His insights lay the foundation for further research into what makes us truly human by demonstrating genetic characteristics that separate all contemporary humans from extinct hominins.


Since ancient times, humanity has been preoccupied with the topic of our origins and what distinguishes us. Paleontology and archeology are critical for understanding human evolution. According to research, the anatomically modern human, Homo sapiens, first appeared in Africa around 300,000 years ago, while our closest known relatives, Neanderthals, developed outside of Africa and populated Europe and Western Asia from around 400,000 years until they went extinct 30,000 years ago.

Homo sapiens traveled from Africa to the Middle East some 70,000 years ago, and from there spread to the rest of the world. For tens of thousands of years, Homo sapiens and Neanderthals coexisted in extensive portions of Eurasia. But what do we know about our ancestors, the vanished Neanderthals? Genomic information might provide clues. Almost the complete human genome had been sequenced by the end of the 1990s. This was a significant achievement that enabled further investigations of the genetic link between different human groups. Studies of the relationship between modern humans and the extinct Neanderthals, on the other hand, would necessitate the sequencing of genomic DNA recovered from archaic specimens.


Svante Pääbo got interested in the idea of using current genetic tools to analyze the DNA of Neanderthals early in his career. However, he quickly understood the significant technological obstacles, as DNA becomes chemically changed and degrades into small bits over time. Only tiny quantities of DNA remain after thousands of years, and what remains is heavily polluted with DNA from microbes and modern people. Pääbo began developing tools to examine DNA from Neanderthals as a postdoctoral student with Allan Wilson, a pioneer in the area of evolutionary biology, an undertaking that lasted several decades.


Pääbo was lured to the University of Munich in 1990, where he continued his study on ancient DNA as a newly appointed Professor. He made the decision to examine DNA from Neanderthal mitochondria organelles in cells containing their own DNA. Although the mitochondrial genome is tiny and includes just a small portion of the genetic material in the cell, it is present in thousands of copies, enhancing the likelihood of success. Pääbo was able to sequence a section of mitochondrial DNA from a 40,000-year-old piece of bone using his upgraded techniques. For the first time, we gained access to a sequence from a long-dead relative. Neanderthals were genetically separate from modern humans and chimps, according to comparisons.


Pääbo embarked on the tremendous challenge of sequencing the Neanderthal nuclear genome after investigations of the tiny mitochondrial genome yielded scant information. At the time, he was approached about establishing a Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. Pääbo and his team at the new Institute progressively refined technologies for isolating and analyzing DNA from archaic bone remains. The study team took use of recent technological breakthroughs that made DNA sequencing extremely efficient. Pääbo also enlisted the help of a number of key scientists with experience in population genetics and sophisticated sequencing analysis. His efforts were fruitful. Pääbo completed the seemingly impossible, and the first Neanderthal genome sequence could be published in 2010.


According to comparative assessments, the most recent common ancestor of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens lived roughly 800,000 years ago. Pääbo and his colleagues may now look at the link between Neanderthals and modern-day people from throughout the world. Comparative investigations revealed that DNA sequences from Neanderthals were more comparable to sequences from current humans from Europe or Asia than to those from contemporary humans from Africa. This suggests that over their millennia of cohabitation, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred. Approximately 1-4% of the genome of current humans of European or Asian heritage is derived from the Neanderthals.

A 40,000-year-old finger bone fragment was discovered in the Denisova cave in southern Siberia in 2008. Pääbo's team decoded the bone's unusually well-preserved DNA. The findings made headlines: the DNA sequence was unique when compared to all known sequences from Neanderthals and modern people. Denisova was the name given to a previously unknown hominid found by Pääbo. Comparisons with sequences from modern humans from throughout the world revealed that gene flow had occurred between Denisova and Homo sapiens. This link was discovered in Melanesia and other regions of South East Asia, where individuals contain up to 6% Denisova DNA.


Pääbo's research has provided new insights into our evolutionary past. At the period when Homo sapiens moved out of Africa, Eurasia was home to at least two extinct hominin groups. Neanderthals resided in western Eurasia, whereas Denisovans dwelt in the continent's east. Homo sapiens interacted and interbred with Denisovans as well as Neanderthals throughout their spread outside of Africa and journey east.


Svante Pääbo's pioneering study created paleogenomics as a completely new scientific subject. Following the original discovery, his lab has conducted investigations of numerous other extinct hominin genome sequences. Pääbo's discoveries have created a one-of-a-kind resource that is widely used by the scientific community to better comprehend human evolution and migration. New sophisticated genetic analysis tools suggest that ancient hominins may have mated with Homo sapiens in Africa. However, due to the increased breakdown of archaic DNA in tropical conditions, no genomes from ancient hominins in Africa have yet been sequenced.


We now know that archaic gene sequences from our extinct relatives impact the physiology of modern humans, according to Svante Pääbo's studies. One such example is the Denisovan form of the gene EPAS1, which offers an advantage in high-altitude survival and is widespread among modern Tibetans. Other examples include Neanderthal genes, which influence our immunological response to many sorts of illnesses.


The unique ability of Homo sapiens to produce sophisticated societies, technological technology, and figurative art, as well as the ability to cross open seas and spread to all regions of our world, distinguishes it. Neanderthals were also social creatures with large minds. They also used tools, although they evolved extremely slowly over hundreds of thousands of years. The genetic distinctions between Homo sapiens and our closest extinct ancestors were unclear until Pääbo's important study revealed them. The intense continuing study focuses on understanding the functional consequences of these distinctions, with the ultimate objective of explaining what distinguishes us as humans.


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