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Nobel Prize in Physiology Awarded for Neanderthal Genome Sequencing

Svante Pääbo, a Swedish scientist, also discovered a previously unknown extinct hominin by extracting DNA from a finger bone fragment.

Svante Pääbo puts his hand on the head of a Neanderthal skeleton
Svante Pääbo has won a Nobel Prize for his work on Neanderthal DNA. 
Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images

The 2022 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded on Monday to Swedish scientist Svante Pääbo for sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal. Pääbo also found DNA evidence of another extinct hominin, the Denisova, by extracting DNA from a fragment of a finger bone found with other ancient remains.

Pääbo's work centered on setting new standards for the extraction and processing of prehistoric DNA. This DNA degrades over time and can be contaminated by microorganisms, as well as by humans. Pääbo was able to discover ways to navigate these issues while being the first to sequence the genome of the Neanderthal, the closest extinct relative to humans. 

In the course of his work, Pääbo took DNA from the bone fragment of a young hominin excavated from the Denisova Cave in the Altai mountains of Russia. The analysis confirmed that the bone came from a hominin that was distinctly different from those previously known. He named the new hominin the Denisova, and it was later found that humans mixed with the it, as well as Neanderthals, during periods of coexistence. 

Pääbo currently works with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, as well as at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. 

The Nobel Prizes are among the most prestigious awards in the world, honoring contributions in the worlds of science, literature and peace, and this year's are being announced from this Monday to next Monday, Oct. 10.