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Home » Who is Svante Pääbo wins Nobel Prize 2022 in Physiology or Medicine?

Who is Svante Pääbo wins Nobel Prize 2022 in Physiology or Medicine?

Who is Svante Pääbo wins Nobel Prize 2022 in Physiology or Medicine?

The first of this year’s Nobel Prizes went to Svante Pääbo. The Karolinska Institutet committee has awarded researchers “for discoveries related to the genomes of extinct hominids and human evolution”.

An award for evolution. This year’s award in Physiology and Medicine has gone to an expert in unravelling the secrets of human evolution. Swedish researcher Svante Pääbo faced the difficult challenge of studying the genetics of hominins that disappeared tens of thousands of years ago.

Decipher human evolution. Pääbo’s work has laid the foundations for a scientific discipline in itself: paleogenomics. This discipline tries to understand the genetic evolution that has led us to become what we are today: Homo Sapiens. Our current genetic configuration is nothing more than the inheritance of millions of years of evolution between different species such as Neanderthals and Denisovans.

The challenge of applying modern genetic analysis techniques to fossils has earned the Swede a Nobel Prize. DNA degrades rapidly, making the remains accessible to palaeontologists fragmentary and contaminated.

Pääbo found a way to advance the analysis of it: based on the DNA of the mitochondria. In this DNA the information is incomplete but it is presented in many copies, increasing the chances of success. This led Pääbo to unravel the genetic information of a 40,000-year-old bone.

Pääbo’s fundamental research gave rise to an entirely new scientific discipline; paleogenomics By revealing the genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human, the Nobel Assembly said in a press release.

‘Seemingly impossible task’

Pääbo, early in his career, was fascinated by the possibility of using modern genetic methods to study Neanderthal DNA. However, he soon became aware of the extreme technical challenges, because over time DNA is chemically modified and degrades into short fragments. After thousands of years, only traces of DNA remain, and what remains is massively contaminated with DNA from bacteria and contemporary humans.

As a postdoctoral student under Allan Wilson, a pioneer in the field of evolutionary biology, Pääbo began developing methods for studying Neanderthal DNA, an effort that spanned several decades.

In 1990, Pääbo was hired by the University of Munich, where, as a newly appointed professor, he continued his work on archaic DNA. He decided to analyze the DNA of Neanderthal mitochondria, organelles in cells that contain his own DNA. The mitochondrial genome is small, containing only a fraction of the cell’s genetic information, but it is present in thousands of copies, increasing the chances of success.

Who is Svante Pääbo

Svante Pääbo, a Swedish geneticist specializing in the field of evolutionary genetics, has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this year.

Svante Pääbo (born April 20, 1955) is a Swedish biologist specializing in evolutionary genetics. He was born in 1955 in Stockholm, father Sune Bergström (Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Bengt I. Samuelsson and John R. Vane in 1982) and Estonian mother Karin Pääbo, he obtained his doctorate from Uppsala University in 1986.

Since 1997, he has been head of the Department of Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Svante Pääbo is an honorary doctor of several universities, a member of eight scientific academies, including the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Leopoldina German National Academy and the US National Academy of Sciences. He has received numerous scientific prizes and awards and has taught more 400 scientific and informative talks about his work.


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