Nobel winner Svante Paabo’s discoveries show what makes us human: Explained

Published on Oct 04, 2022 01:31 PM IST

Nobel prize winner Svante Paabo: Svante Paabo is widely regarded as having pioneered the field of ancient DNA.

Nobel prize winner Svante Paabo: Swedish scientist Svante Paabo stands by a replica of a Neanderthal skeleton at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.(AP)
Nobel prize winner Svante Paabo: Swedish scientist Svante Paabo stands by a replica of a Neanderthal skeleton at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.(AP)

Svante Paabo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany was awarded the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for the year 2022 on Monday “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”. Svante Paabo sequenced the genomes of the Neanderthals and Denisovans which helped in understanding human evolution. He has pioneered the field of ancient DNA dedicated to recovery and analysis of DNA from historic as well as prehistoric remains.

What was Svante Paabo's early work?

Svante Paabo completed his PhD in medical science at Uppsala University in Sweden after which he studied Egyptology. The tools of molecular biology helped Paabo to work in the field of human prehistory as in the 1980s, he studied ancient DNA. Svante Paabo then developed a series of methods and guidelines to recover and interpret authentic DNA.

Could we recover DNA from dinosaurs?

In the early 1990s, Svante Paabo remained sceptical on whether DNA from dinosaurs could survive, only to be proven right later. His goal then became to recover the Neanderthal DNA. Developing methods to accomplish his objective, in 1997 Paabo and his colleagues published the first Neanderthal DNA sequences.

When was the entire Neanderthal genome published by Svante Paabo?

In 2010, the entire Neanderthal genome which included all the genetic information stored in the DNA of one Neanderthal was published by Svante Paabo. A few years later, the genome from a previously unknown type of human, the Denisovans, distantly related to Neanderthals was also published.

What does Svante Paabo's work shows us?

Svante Paabo's work shows that modern humans carry a small proportion of DNA from Neanderthals and Denisovans. Additionally, it also shows that genetic mutations which are not shared which helps us understand how the brain develops- thus helping us understand what makes us human.

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