The Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded on Monday, October 3, to Swede Svante Pabo, 67, for his role in the emergence of the Neanderthal genome and paleogenomics.
“By revealing the genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominids, his discoveries provided the basis for what makes us humans such unique beings.”The jury applauded.
Thanks to the sequencing of a bone discovered in Siberia in 2008, scientists were able to reveal the presence of another unique and hitherto unknown hominin, the Denisovan Man, who lived in present-day Russia and Asia.
Svante Pääbo, 67 years old and living in Germany for decades – he works at the famous Max-Planck Institute – discovered in 2009 that there was about 2% genetic exchange between these extinct hominids, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.
This ancient gene flow has physiological relevance to modern humans, for example affecting how our immune system responds to infections.
His work recently showed that Covid-19 patients who carry a piece of Neanderthal DNA derived from a cross with the human genome for about 60,000 years — particularly in Europe, and more specifically in South Asia — are prone to severe complications. disease
“The genetic differences between Homo sapiens and our now-extinct closest relatives were unknown until they were identified through the work of Papo”The Nobel committee added in its conclusion.
The Swedish researcher overcame the difficulties of DNA degradation over time: after thousands of years, only traces remain, and often contaminated by bacteria or modern human traces.
Neanderthals coexisted with modern humans in Europe 30,000 years ago, before being replaced by sapiens with African roots.
Pääbo, a native of Stockholm, has long been considered worthy of a Nobel Prize. But in recent years he has disappeared from the list of favourites. “He lives in Leipzig, so it’s easy to reach him, he doesn’t sleep”said Thomas Perlman, secretary of the Nobel committee responsible for awarding the prize. “He was speechless, so happy, he asked if he could tell his wife, and I said yes. He was incredibly happy. »
His gift opens a dynasty: his father, Sune Bergström (1916-2004), also received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1982 for his research on hormones. This is Swande’s natural father, who he publicly explained in 2014 was the result of an extramarital affair, hence their different names.
The vintage continues in Stockholm with the highly-anticipated literary prize on Thursday, the only award presented in Oslo, and before Peace on Friday, physics on Tuesday, then chemistry on Wednesday. The most recent economic price closes the vintage on Monday.
113 with thise The Nobel Prize in Medicine has now been awarded to 226 individuals since the creation of the prize in physiology or medicine. Among them, twelve were women. No organization has yet been awarded which the rules of the Karolinska Institute prohibit.
The Nobel Prize in Medicine, worth 10 million kroner (about 920,000 euros), was awarded last year to Americans Artem Patabutian and David Julius for discovering how the nervous system transmits temperature and touch.
Despite efforts by juries to crown more women, science Nobel Prizes in recent decades have been increasingly dominated by male researchers who are from or reside in the United States. The 2021 Nobel vintage is no exception to the rule, with twelve winners and one runner-up. All science prizes were awarded to men.
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