Nobel prize (Physiology & Medicine) — a quick capture
The Homo sapiens unraveled
A snippet from the Nobel Committee reads
With his pioneering research, Svante Pääbo has accomplished something seemingly impossible: the sequencing of the genome of a Neanderthal, an extinct relative of modern humans. He has also made the sensational discovery of a previously unknown hominid — a Denisovan
Who is Svante Pääbo?
Svante Pääbo is a Swedish geneticist from the Max Planck Institute who happens to be the director of the Department of Genetics at the very institute. He is also a professor at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan. He specializes in the field of evolutionary genetics and extensively focuses on paleogenetics, specifically, on the Neandarthal genome.
The ground-breaking discovery
It all started with the discovery of the remains of a finger bone fragment which was 40,000 years old from the Denisova cave in southern Siberia. To everyone’s surprise, the DNA in the fragment was well-preserved and that gave the edge to Svante’s team to sequence the same. The results from the sequencing when compared to Neanderthal and pre-day-humans DNA gave way to a sensational discovery in the light of genomic evolution. Pääbo and his team had discovered a previously unknown hominin and they named it Denisova. It is also noteworthy that there has been the occurrence of gene flow between Denisova and Homo sapiens probably during their period of coexistence. Upon examining for this proof of concept, the team found populations in Melanesia and other South East Asian countries carry up to 6% Denisova DNA.
This answers some of the lacunae that existed in the evolution and connection of modern day humans with their closest ancestors which are extinct. Research is ongoing to decipher the complete truth about what makes us uniquely human.