Swedish geneticist wins Nobel Prize for Neanderthal gene research

AFP/The Local
AFP/The Local - [email protected]
Swedish geneticist wins Nobel Prize for Neanderthal gene research
Svante Pääbo's research created the entirely new discipline of paleogenetics. Illustration: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Prize Outreach

The Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo has won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work sequencing the genome of Neanderthal man.


The Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet medical university announced on Monday that it was awarding the prize to Pääbo for his "discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution". 

"Through his pioneering research, Svante Pääbo accomplished something seemingly impossible: sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans," the Assembly, which awards the Nobel Prize  wrote in a press release. "He also made the sensational discovery of a previously unknown hominin, Denisova."

"By revealing genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human."

Pääbo, 67, is currently a Professor at Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, which is where he did the work which led to his publication of the Neanderthal genome sequence in 2010. 

He will takes home the award sum of 10 million Swedish kronor ($901,500), and will receive the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.

As well as discovering a new hominid and sequencing the Neanderthal genome, Pääbo showed that gene transfer had occurred between these now extinct hominins and Homo sapiens. 

Svante Pääbo's brother, Rurik Reenstierna, told TT that he was "extremely happy and surprised" by the award.

He said the family had never really expected Pääbo to win the prize. 

"No, I really wouldn't say that. Perhaps we would have joked about it at one time, but not in recent years. This is fantastic." 

This is the family's second Nobel Prize, after Pääbo's father Sune Bergström won the Nobel prize for medicine in 1982. 

The Prize for Physiology or Medicine is the first to be awarded in the Nobel season, which continues this week with the announcement of the winners of the Physics Prize on Tuesday and the Chemistry Prize on Wednesday.


They will be followed by the much-anticipated prizes for Literature on Thursday and Peace on Friday.

Among those cited as possible Peace Prize laureates are the International Criminal Court, tasked with investigating war crimes in Ukraine, jailed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

The Economics Prize winds things up on Monday, October 10.


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