The 2022 winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine is Svante Paabo. The 67-year-old Swedish biologist received the award for his discoveries in the field of human evolution. He is considered one of the founders of paleogenetics.
The scientist, the reasons for the award read, “through his pioneering research, accomplished something seemingly impossible: sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of today’s humans.” He also made “the sensational discovery of a previously unknown hominid, Denisova”. The Swedish Academy points out how Paabo also discovered that gene transfer had occurred from these now-extinct hominids to Homo sapiens following migration from Africa some 70,000 years ago.
“This ancient gene flow to today’s humans has physiological relevance, for example by influencing how our immune system reacts to infections”, it is pointed out. Paabo’s research has given rise to an entirely new scientific discipline, paleogenomics, “By revealing the genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominids, his findings provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human”.
Paabo received his Ph.D. in biology from Uppsala University in 1986. Since 1997 he has headed the genetics department at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. In 1992 he received the Leibniz Prize from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, which is Germany’s highest scientific honor. The scientist also was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 2000, culminating in his highest honor today with the award of the Nobel Prize. Paabo is also a member of the Accademia dei Lincei, which spoke of a “very well-deserved award to a great scientist whom we are honored to have as a foreign associate”.