Svante Paabo of Sweden won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on how people evolved.
The Prize committee said that he did something that seemed impossible: he cracked the genetic code of Neanderthals, one of our extinct relatives.
He also did the “sensational” thing of finding out about the Denisovans, who were previously unknown relatives.
His work helped us learn about how we evolved and how people moved around the world.
The work of the Swedish geneticist gets to the heart of some of the most important questions, like where we came from and why Homo sapiens did well while our relatives died out.
Prof. Paabo was interested in genetic material from our ancestors that were old and broken down. Many people thought it would be impossible to do. But he was the first person to be able to sequence DNA from a piece of bone that was 40,000 years old.
These results showed that Neanderthals, who mostly lived in Europe and Western Asia, were different from both modern humans and chimpanzees.
His work was mostly about hominins, which are modern humans like Homo sapiens and our extinct relatives.
The Nobel committee said, “By showing genetic differences that separate all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries give us a place to start looking into what makes us uniquely human.”
Comparing Neanderthal DNA to that of people from all over the world showed that their DNA was more similar to that of people from Europe or Asia.
This shows that after leaving Africa about 70,000 years ago, Homo sapiens had children with Neanderthals.
And you can see the effects of that even now. Between 1% and 4% of our DNA comes from our Neanderthal ancestors, which even affects how well our bodies fight off infections.
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