‘Seemingly Impossible’ DNA Task Earns Him a Nobel


This year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to Swedish scientist Svante Paabo for his discoveries on human evolution. Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Committee, announced the winner Monday at the Karolinska Institute in the Swedish capital of Stockholm. Paabo has spearheaded research comparing the genome of modern humans and our closest extinct relatives, the Neanderthals and Denisovans, showing that there was mixing between the species, per the AP. A release notes that Paabo’s task of sequencing the genome of a Neanderthal, an extinct relative of today’s humans, was a “seemingly impossible” one that he pulled off only after decades of work, and that he also discovered the Denisova hominin.

“Paabo’s seminal research gave rise to an entirely new scientific discipline: paleogenomics,” the release notes. “By revealing genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human.” “Paabo received the news while enjoying a cup of coffee,” the Nobel Prize’s official Twitter account tweeted early Monday. “After the shock wore off, one of the first things he wondered was if he could share the news with his wife, Linda.”

Last year’s medicine recipients were David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries into how the human body perceives temperature and touch. The prizes carry a cash award of nearly $900,000 and will be handed out on Dec. 10. The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896. The medicine prize kicked off a week of Nobel Prize announcements. It continues Tuesday with the physics prize, with chemistry on Wednesday, and literature on Thursday. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday, and the economics award on Oct. 10.

(Read more Nobel Prize for Medicine stories.)