The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Svante Pääbo on Monday for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution.
It was the first of several prizes to be given over the next week. The Nobel Prizes, among the highest honors in science, recognize groundbreaking contributions in a variety of fields.
“Through his pioneering research, Svante Pääbo — this year’s Nobel Prize laureate in physiology or medicine — accomplished something seemingly impossible: sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans,” the Nobel committee said in a statement.
“Pääbo’s discoveries have generated new understanding of our evolutionary history,” the statement said, adding that this research had helped establish the burgeoning science of “paleogenomics,” or the study of genetic material from ancient pathogens.
Nils-Göran Larsson, a professor in medical biochemistry for the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said that Dr. Pääbo had used existing technology and his own methods to extract and analyze the ancient DNA.
“It was certainly considered to be impossible to recover DNA from 40,000-year-old bones,” Dr. Larsson said, adding later that the discoveries would “allow us to compare changes between contemporary Homo sapiens and ancient hominins. And this, over the years to come, will give us huge insights into human physiology.”
Anna Wedell, a professor of medical genetics at the Karolinska Institute in Solna, Sweden, said that Dr. Pääbo’s findings “allow us to address one of the most fundamental questions of all: What makes us unique?”
By comparing and analyzing human genome sequences, Dr. Pääbo’s team discovered a previously unknown type of hominin, Denisova, the committee’s statement said, finding that gene flow occurred from the Denisova to Homo sapiens about 70,000 years ago. That information remained relevant, the statement said — for example, in helping to inform how human immune systems reacted to infections.
When reached by telephone in Leipzig, Germany, Dr. Pääbo “was overwhelmed, he was speechless,” Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel Assembly and the Nobel Committee, said in announcing the award.
This is a developing story. Check back for further details.
Who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2021?
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be awarded on Wednesday by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm. Last year, Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan won for their development of a new tool that spurred research into new drugs and reduced the chemistry’s effect on the environment.
The Nobel Prize in Literature will be awarded on Thursday by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm. Last year, Abdulrazak Gurnah won for “his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”
The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on Friday by the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo. Last year, Maria Ressa and Dmitri A. Muratov, both journalists, won for their efforts in the struggle to protect press freedoms.