Why did a geneticist learning Neanderthal DNA win the 2022 Nobel Prize in Medication? – Healthcare Economist


The 2022 Nobel Prize for Medication went to Svante Pääbo. In contrast to many former winners of the Nobel Prize in Medication, Dr. Pääbo by no means truly invented any particular medication or class of drugs. Slightly the award was given “for his discoveries regarding the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”. The press launch from the Nobel web site gives some perception, however why does analysis on three sorts of hominids (fashionable Homo sapiens [i.e., us], Neanderthals, and Denisovans) deserve a Nobel Prize in Medication. A story in Quillette explains:

As a graduate immunology scholar within the early Eighties, the younger Swede carried out molecular genetic analyses on 23 Egyptian mummies, considered one of which—a 2,400-year-old baby specimen—proved to comprise clonable DNA. The invention yielded the primary scientific paper ever printed with reference to DNA extracted from fossil tissues.

The then-available expertise didn’t permit Pääbo to sequence the mum’s complete genome, nor these of the Neanderthal specimens he would later research. And it wouldn’t be till 2014—following 20 years of analysis—that Pääbo and his group on the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology deciphered a Neanderthal genome to such extent that it may very well be systematically in comparison with its fashionable human equal. Within the course of, they pioneered laboratory and computational options to a primary drawback of paleontology: Throughout the passage of tens of hundreds of years, the DNA contained in bones sometimes dissolves into tiny fragments. Any scientist looking for to reconstruct an historical genome should not solely patch it collectively from numerous remoted bits and items, but in addition apply analytical strategies to filter out contaminating DNA from millennia value of bone-colonizing fungus and microorganisms.
Earlier than Pääbo demonstrated in any other case, some scientists believed that Neanderthals might need been our personal ancestors. Nonetheless, Pääbo decided that Neanderthals and fashionable people developed in parallel—the previous in Europe and Asia, the latter in Africa—with their newest frequent ancestor residing about 800,000 years in the past.

Whereas the technical achievement right here is spectacular, maybe the largest perception was the invention of a brand new group of early hominins generally known as Denisovans. The invention of the Denisovans are described beneath in a 2010 article in Nature:

It represents a hitherto unknown sort of hominin mtDNA that shares a typical ancestor with anatomically fashionable human and Neanderthal mtDNAs about 1.0 million years in the past. This means that it derives from a hominin migration out of Africa distinct from that of the ancestors of Neanderthals and of recent people. The stratigraphy of the cave the place the bone was discovered means that the Denisova hominin lived shut in time and house with Neanderthals in addition to with fashionable people.

Whereas Neanderthal DNA includes as much as 4% of recent human DNA in elements of Europe and Asia, Denisovan DNA is believed to comprise as much as 6% of recent human DNA in pats of Papua New Guinea and Melanesia.

Thus, if we need to perceive modern-day human DNA, Dr. Pääbo’s discoveries concerning hominin DNA could also be important.


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