The Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was won by Swedish geneticist Professor Svante Pääbo, an evolutionary geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who figured out how to extract DNA from Neandertals’ and Denisovans’ bones. The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm announced the prize on October 3. Prof Paabo only heard the news this morning when he was called by Thomas Perlmann, the secretary for the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine. “Humanity has always been intrigued by its origins. Where did we come from and how are we related to those who came before us? What makes us different from hominins that went extinct?” said Anna Wedell, a member of the Nobel Assembly.
Pääbo’s work established the field of paleogenomics. Pääbo’s work helped explore our own evolutionary history and how humans spread around the planet. He was, for the first time, able to sequence DNA from a 40,000-year-old piece of bone. His work shows there were already two distinct groups of hominins (Neanderthals and Denisovans) living in Eurasia when Homo sapiens spread from Africa. That work disrupted the prevailing view of human origins. As a young scientist, Pääbo focused on understanding how adenoviruses interacted with the immune system. But he retained an interest in human origins. Forty years earlier, Pääbo’s father, Sune Bergström, alsowon a Nobel prize.