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Swedish geneticist wins Nobel Prize for Neanderthal gene research

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

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 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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BREAKING

Sweden’s electricity price subsidy now postponed until February

Households and businesses will not receive any compensation for high power prices over the last year until February at the earliest, Swedish government ministers confirmed at a press conference on Wednesday.

Sweden's electricity price subsidy now postponed until February

During the election campaign, the Moderate, Christian Democrat, and Liberal parties made a common election promise to have a system of compensation “in place” by November 1st. 

“If we win the election and Sweden receives a new government, we are are going to make sure that high-cost protection against the current extreme electricity prices for households and businesses will be in place by November 1st,” they wrote. “Household finances will be rescued in good time for Christmas. That is a common election promise.” 

But at a press conference on Wednesday morning, social insurance minister Anna Tenje said that payments would not begin until well into 2023. 

“The payments will begin in February if nothing unexpected happens,” she said. 

For businesses, the wait could be even longer. 

“The first step will be payments to households. The second stage will be payments to businesses, and that question is still being decided,” energy and business minister Ebba Busch said. 

At a press conference, Magdalena Andersson, leader of the opposition Social Democrats accused Sweden’s prime minister of “lying to the Swedish people right in the face”. 

“When it comes to high cost protection for electricity, he was very clear ahead of the election that it would be in place on November 1st,” she said. “He couldn’t explain how, but it was a clear promise to the people of Sweden and that has now been broken. It’s not as if anything has happened to explain why he couldn’t live up to the promise.” 

“Don’t make lofty promises that aren’t trustworthy. That’s what I said during the election campaign.” she added.

The Social Democrats’ energy spokesperson, Fredrik Olovsson, said that the government should give a new instruction to the country’s grid operator Svenska Kraftnät, so that even people in northern Sweden could receive the subsidy. 

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