The Nobel Prize was awarded for studying the Neanderthal genome and discovering the Denisovian

The Nobel Prize was awarded for studying the Neanderthal genome and discovering the Denisovian

The first Nobel Prize winner in 2022 was Swedish geneticist Swante Paabo, who first sequenced the Neanderthal genome, discovered a previously unknown Denisan man, and discovered genetic traces of ancient ancestors in the genes of modern man.

At the beginning of his career, a scientist was enthralled by the possibility of using modern genetic methods to study the DNA of Neanderthals, but it was not so simple: over time, DNA is chemically modified and split into short fragments; thousands of years later, only trace amounts of DNA are left, and what remains is largely contaminated by the DNA of bacteria and modern humans.

Swante Paabo has been working for several decades on technologies for the reconstruction of the destroyed genome. In 1990, a scientist proposed to analyse the DNA of the Neanderthal mitochondrium, an organelle in cells containing its own DNA. The mitochondrial genome is small and contains only a portion of the cell's genetic information, but it is represented in thousands of copies, which increases the chances of success. With improved analysis, a group of scientists led by Paabo succeeded in sequencing a portion of mitochondrial DNA from a piece of bone that is 40,000 years old.

Further research on genome reconstruction helped scientists to decipher the Neadertalian genome for the first time in 2010, and later decipher the Denisian human genome and prove that it is a new, previously unknown human species.

Paabo's discoveries formed a modern understanding of man's evolutionary history, when Homo sapiens migrated from Africa, at least two types of hominids settled in Eurasia; Neanderthals lived in the western part of the continent, and Denisovians settled in the east; during the expansion, modern people met and interacted with other species.

Interspecies are important not only for understanding the history of human species, but also for modern medical research. Genetic mutations inherited by Homo sapiens from Neanderthals and Dominicans, for example, form an immunity that protects human beings from various infections.