Svante Paabo, a Swedish paleogeneticist who analyzed the Neanderthal DNA and identified the previously unidentified hominid Denisova, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday.
The Nobel committee stated that his studies “give the basis for understanding what makes us uniquely human by identifying genetic characteristics that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins.”
Following the exodus from Africa some 70,000 years ago, Paabo, the director of the genetics section at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, discovered that Homo sapiens had received genes from these now extinct hominins.
The jury concluded that “this old flow of genes to modern humans has physiological implications today, impacting, for example, how our immune system responds to illnesses.”
According to a 2020 study by Paabo, people with Covid-19 who have a little amount of Neanderthal DNA are at an increased risk of developing serious disease-related problems.
On December 10, the anniversary of the scientist Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896, who established the prizes in his last will and testament, Paabo, 67, will receive the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm. Paabo will receive the award sum of 10 million Swedish kronor ($901,500).
Last year, the Medicine Prize went to US pair David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for discoveries on receptors for temperature and touch, which have been used to develop treatments for a wide range of diseases and conditions, including chronic pain.
The Nobel season 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, while the Economics Prize winds things up on Monday, October 10.
For the Literature Prize on Thursday, literary critics told AFP they thought the Swedish Academy may go for a more mainstream author this year, after selecting lesser-known writers the past two years.
Last year, Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah won, while US poet Louise Gluck was crowned in 2020.
US novelist Joyce Carol Oates, France’s Annie Ernaux and Maryse Conde, Russia’s Lyudmila Ulitskaya and Canada’s Margaret Atwood have all been cited as potential laureates if the committee has its eyes on a woman.
Online betting sites however have France’s Michel Houellebecq as the favourite, ahead of British author Salman Rushdie, who was the victim of an attempted murder attack in August.
However, this year is anticipated to be particularly significant for the Peace Prize.
Will the Norwegian Nobel Committee offer another anti-Putin prize after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine after Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov and his Philippine colleague Maria Ressa shared the honor last year in the cause of freedom of expression?
A war between two nations has not raged so close to Oslo since World War II.
Both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, both situated in The Hague and charged with investigating war crimes in Ukraine, have been cited as potential winners this year.
Both Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the leader of the opposition in Belarus, and Russian dissident Alexei Navalny are currently in jail.
Experts predicted that Swedish activist Greta Thunberg would be the committee’s choice if the issue of the climate disaster were to be addressed, potentially alongside British environmentalist David Attenborough or other campaigners like Nisreen Elsaim of Sudan and Chibeze Ezekiel of Ghana.