Stockholm – Swedish world Svante Papu He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday for his discoveries about human evolution that provided key insights into our immune system and what makes us unique compared to our extinct cousins, the prize committee said.
Papo led the development of new techniques that allowed researchers to compare the genomes of modern humans with the genomes of other hominins – Neanderthals and Denisovans.
While Neanderthal bones were first discovered in the mid-1800s, scientists have only been able to fully understand the connections between species by unlocking their DNA – often referred to as the code of life.
Anna Weddell, chair of the Nobel committee, said this includes the time when modern humans diverged from Neanderthals as a species, identified about 800,000 years ago.
“Surprisingly, Papo and his team also found that gene flow occurred from Neanderthals to Homo sapiens, showing that they had children together during periods of coexistence,” she said.
This transfer of genes between hominin species affects how the immune system of modern humans reacts to infection, like corona virus. People outside Africa have 1-2% of Neanderthal genes.
Papo and his team were also able to extract DNA from a small finger bone found in a Siberian cave, which led to the identification of a new species of ancient humans they called Denisovans.
Weddell described this as an “exciting discovery” that later showed that Neanderthals and Denisovans were sister groups that separated from each other about 600,000 years ago. Denisovan genes have been found in up to 6% of modern humans in Asia and Southeast Asia, suggesting that interbreeding occurred there as well.
“By mixing with them after migrating from Africa, Homo sapiens picked up sequences that improved their chances of survival in their new environments,” Wedel said. For example, Tibetans share a gene with Denisovans that helps them adapt to higher altitudes.
“Svante Papau has discovered the genetic makeup of our closest relatives, Neanderthals and Denison hominins,” Nobel Society member Nils-Goran Larsson told The Associated Press after the announcement.
“And the small differences between these extinct human forms and us as humans today will provide important insight into the functions of our bodies and how our brain evolved.”
Babu said he was surprised by his victory on Monday.
“So I was having my last cup of tea to go and take my daughter to her nanny where she stayed for one night, and then I got this call from Sweden and I think of course it had something to do with a little summer house in Sweden. I thought, ‘Oh, the lawn mower broke or something,'” He said in an interview Published on the official homepage of the Nobel Prizes.
He was pondering what would happen if Neanderthals survived another 40,000 years. “Will we see worse racism against Neanderthals, because they were really different from us? Or will we see our place in the living world in a completely different way when we have other forms of humans that are very similar to us but still different,” he said.
Babu, 67, has conducted his award-winning studies in Germany at the University of Munich and at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. He is the son of Sonn Bergstrom, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Medicine. According to the Nobel Foundation, this is the eighth time that the son or daughter of a Nobel laureate has also won a Nobel Prize.
Scientists in the field applauded the selection of this year’s Nobel Committee.
David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, said he was glad the group honored an ancient domain of DNA, which he feared might “fall between the cracks.”
By realizing that DNA can be preserved for tens of thousands of years — and developing ways to extract it — Paabo and his team devised an entirely new way to answer questions about our past, Reich said. This work has been the basis for the “explosive growth” of ancient DNA studies in recent decades.
“He has completely reshaped our understanding of human diversity and human history,” Reich said.
Dr. Eric Green, Director National human genome research institutewhich has been called “Great Day for Genomics,” a relatively young field that was first named in 1987.
The Human Genome Project, which ran from 1990-2003, “brought us The first sequence of the human genomeand we have since improved this sequencing,” Green said. Since then, scientists have developed new, cheaper and highly sensitive ways to sequence DNA.
When you sequence DNA from a fossil that’s millions of years old, Green said, you only have “small, vanishing amounts” of DNA. Among Paabo’s innovations was the discovery of laboratory methods for extracting and preserving these tiny amounts of DNA. Then he was able to put parts of the Neanderthal genome sequence against the human sequence out of the Human Genome Project.
Paabo’s team published the first draft of the Neanderthal genome in 2009. The team sequenced more than 60% of the complete genome from a small sample of bone, after resisting decay and contamination from bacteria.
“We should always be proud of the fact that we’ve sequenced our own genomes. The idea that we can go back in time and sequence a genome that doesn’t live anymore and something that’s a direct relative of humans is really cool,” Green said.
Katrina Harvati Babatiodoro, Professor of Paleoanthropology at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said the award also underscores the importance of understanding humanity’s evolutionary heritage to gain insights into human health today.
“The most recent example is the discovery that genes inherited from our primitive relatives … can have implications for one’s susceptibility to COVID infection,” she said in an email to The Associated Press.
The Medicine Prize was the start of a week after the Nobel Prize was announced. Tuesday continues with the Physics Prize, Chemistry on Wednesday and Literature on Thursday. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday and the Economics Prize on October 10.
The drug was received last year by David Julius and Erdem Patbutian for their discoveries about how the human body perceives temperature and touch.
The prizes carry a cash prize of 10 million Swedish kronor (approximately $900,000) and will be awarded on December 10. The money comes from a will left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.
Jordan I reported from Berlin. Ungar Reported from Louisville, Kentucky. Maddy Burakoff Contributed from New York.
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