A Swedish scientist won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this week for his work in evolution.
The committee awarded Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution.”
Pääbo sequenced the genome of the bones of a Neanderthal, the ancestor of modern-day humans.
By extracting and studying the DNA, which was widely believed to be impossible, it led to the discovery of a hominin — a type of human species — that was previously unknown, called Denisova.
This work also helped traced the migrations of extinct species and how they influenced the physiology of modern humans, particularly how our immune systems work.
“Pääbo’s seminal research gave rise to an entirely new scientific discipline; paleogenomics,” the committee said in a press release. “By revealing genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human.”
Pääbo’s father is biochemist Sune Bergström, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1982 for the discovery of prostaglandins, compounds in the body that have hormone-like effects.
Each Nobel prize is worth 10 million kronor — the equivalent of about $900,000 — and is given to laureates with a diploma and a gold medal on Dec. 10, the date the creator of the Nobel prizes, Alfred Nobel, died in 1896.
In 2021, scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian jointly received the prize “for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.”