Svante Pääbo, the 2022 Nobel laureate in medicine, helped humans understand their origins

The Swedish geneticist pioneered the application of DNA analysis for ancient bones.
Evolving human genetics research.
Evolving human genetics research.
Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP (Getty Images)
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This year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo.

The prestigious award went to Pääbo “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution.”

Pääbo, who specializes in human evolution, pioneered the application of DNA analysis for ancient bones, and in particular regarding techniques for sequencing severely degraded DNA. He has won several science prizes, including the prestigious Japan Prize 2020.

The Nobel Prize in Medicine is the first of the awards to be announced this year. Physics, chemistry, literature, and the peace prizes will follow one day at a time for the rest of the week, with economics closing the year’s series on Oct 10. The announcements will all be livestreamed.

Brief history

Swedish chemist, engineer, and industrialist Alfred Nobel, most famously credited with inventing dynamite, gave the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in his last will and testament on Nov. 27, 1895. They were split into multiple prizes, one of which was dedicated to “the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine”.

“It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not,” Nobel’s will stated.

A snapshot of recent winners

Other frontrunner in 2022

🇺🇸 American geneticist Mary-Claire King, who in 1990 discovered the BRCA1 gene, which helped develop the breast cancer drug Herceptin

🇭🇺 Hungarian-born Katalin Kariko, whose pioneering research led directly to the first mRNA vaccines to fight covid-19, made by Pfizer and Moderna. When she didn’t win last year, Göran Hansson, secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said, “The development of mRNA vaccines is a wonderful success story that has had enormous positive consequences for humankind. And we’re all very grateful to the scientists. This is a kind of discovery that will receive nominations. But we need to take time.”

🇺🇸 Stuart Orkin of Harvard Medical School for identifying the genetic changes behind the various types of thalassemia which led to promising new gene-based therapies for inherited blood disorders.

By the digits

112: Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine awarded since 1901

224: People who’ve been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine since 1901

12: Women who’ve won the Nobel Prize in Medicine

39: Instances in which the award has been shared between three laureates—the maximum number of people to whom it can be jointly awarded

9: Occasions on which no prize was given; in 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1921, 1925, 1940, 1941 and 1942. The Nobel Foundation says: “If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year. If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation’s restricted funds”

10 million: Swedish krona awarded to Nobel Prize winners this year. It’s equivalent to $901,608

32: the age of the youngest medicine prize winner till date. It was Frederick G. Banting, who discovered Insulin, in 1923

87: the age of the oldest medicine prize laureate—Peyton Rous. He was one of two winners in 1966, who won“for his discovery of tumour-inducing viruses”

Medicine prize family trees

👩‍❤️‍👨 Spouses Gerty Cori and Carl Cori and May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser won the medicine prize together in 1947 and 2014 respectively

👨‍👦Arthur Kornberg won the Nobel Prize laureate in physiology or medicine 1959. His son, Roger D. Kornberg, won the chemistry prize in 2006.

👬 Nikolaas Tinbergen won the medicine prize in 1973—four years after his brother Jan Tinbergen won the economic sciences prize

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