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Nobel Prize in Medicine to the Swedish Svante Pääbo, explorer of prehistoric DNA

The Nobel Prize in Medicine crowned the Swedish pioneer of paleogenetics, Svante Pääbo, on Monday for the complete sequencing of the Neanderthal genome and the founding of this discipline that analyzes DNA from remote times to decipher human genes.

“By revealing the genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominids, their discoveries have laid the foundation for exploring what makes us humans unique.”said the Nobel jury.

Thanks to the sequencing of a bone found in Siberia in 2008, he was able to reveal the existence of another different and hitherto unknown hominin, the Denisovan man, who lived in present-day Russia and Asia.

67 years old and living in Germany for decades, Pääbo discovered in 2009 that 2% of the genes had passed from these now extinct hominins to Homo sapiens.

This ancient gene flow into modern man has a physiological impact, for example on the way the immune system reacts to infections.

His work had recently shown that covid-19 patients with a Neanderthal DNA segment -especially in Europe and South Asia- inherited from a crossover with the human genome some 60,000 years ago, have a higher risk of suffer from serious complications of the disease.

The genetic differences between Homo sapiens and our closest missing relatives were not known until they were identified thanks to the work of Pääbo.” added the Nobel committee in its decision.

damaged DNA

The Swedish researcher managed to overcome the difficulties of studying DNA that has been badly damaged by time, since after thousands of years, only remains remain, highly contaminated by bacteria or human traces.

Neanderthal man cohabited for a time with modern man in Europe, before disappearing completely around 30,000 years ago.

Pääbo, a native of Stockholm, received the Princess of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research in Spain in 2018.

“He lives in Leipzig (Germany), so it was easy to get in touch with him, he didn’t sleep”, explained Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel committee.

“He was speechless, very happy, he asked me if he could tell his wife, I said yes. He was incredibly happy.”

His father, Sune Bergström, already received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1982 for his findings on hormones. Svante Pääbo bears the last name of his mother, the Estonian chemist Karin Pääbo.

The prize is accompanied by a reward of 10 million crowns (about $900,000).

To the Nobel Prize in Medicinewill be followed by Physics on Tuesday, Chemistry on Wednesday and, the most anticipated, Literature on Thursday and Peace on Friday (in Oslo).

The most recently created Nobel Prize in Economics closes the 2022 season next Monday.

With this 113th Nobel Prize in Medicine, there are 226 individuals who have won the award since its creation, including 12 women. No organization has been rewarded, since it is prohibited in the regulations of the Karolinska Institute that awards the prizes.

Nobel Committee member in Physiology or Medicine Anna Wedell explains the research field of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine winner Svante Paabo, during a news conference at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 3, 2022. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

male domination

Last year, the award went to Americans Ardem Patapoutian and David Julius for their discoveries on how the nervous system transmits temperature and touch.

Male researchers from the United States or based in the United States have largely dominated scientific Nobel prizes in recent decades, despite efforts by juries to award more women.

For the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, critics questioned by AFP are favoring a better-known name, after two more low-key laureates, American poet Louise Glück in 2020 and British-Tanzanian-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah last year.

The American Joyce Carol Oates, the French Annie Ernaux, the Russian Ludmila Ulitskaia or the Canadian Margaret Atwood would ratify the parity efforts of the jury in recent years.

But it would be the Peace prize that would have the most impact this year.

After having awarded two journalists, the Russian Dmitri Muratov and the Filipina Maria Ressa, the Norwegian committee will give an anti-Putin award after the invasion of Ukraine?

Never since World War II has an interstate conflict occurred so close to Oslo.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), in charge of investigating war crimes in Ukraine, as well as the International Court of Justice, also based in the Netherlands, are among the candidates. Also the imprisoned Russian opponent Alexéi Navalni or the Belarusian opposition member Svetlana Tijanóvskaya.

Source: Elcomercio

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