Swedish scientist Svante Pääbo has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology for the year 2022 “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”.



  • He has spearheaded the development of new techniques that allowed researchers to compare the genome of modern humans and that of other hominins — the Neanderthals and Denisovans.
  • He spent decades trying to extract DNA from 40,000-year-old bones, culminating in the unveiling of the Neanderthal genome in 2010.
  • The research helped establish that modern humans and Neanderthals share a common ancestor that lived some 600,000 years ago. Paabo and his team also found genetic evidence that, during periods of coexistence, modern humans and Neanderthals had children together.
  • His seminal research gave rise to an entirely new scientific discipline; paleogenomics.
  • His research led to the understanding that archaic gene sequences from our extinct relatives influence the physiology of present-day humans.
    • One such example is the Denisovan version of the gene EPAS1, which confers an advantage for survival at high altitude and is common among present-day Tibetans.
    • Other examples are Neanderthal genes that affect our immune response to different types of infections.


About Hominins

  • Hominins include modern humans, extinct human species and our immediate ancestors. Homo sapiens are the first modern humans who evolved from their hominid predecessors between 200,000-300,000 years ago. It is estimated that these modern humans started migrating outside of Africa some 70,000-100,000 years ago.
  • Even so, it is not yet clear as to when modern humans first colonised Sulawesi. So far, the earliest dated proxy evidence for the presence of modern humans in Sulawesi consists of prehistoric rock art, researchers note.


Who were Neanderthals?

  • Neanderthals were archaic humans that became extinct about 40,000 years ago.
  • They seem to have appeared in Europe and later expanded into Southwest, Central and Northern Asia.
  • Neanderthals, were long thought to have been the archetypal cavemen, brutish and intellectually un-evolved.
  • In early 1900s, scientific findings described Neanderthals as gorilla-like beasts, an extinct branch of humanity that could not compete with slender, brilliant humans.


About the Nobel Prize

  • Nobel Prizes are widely regarded as the highest honours available in their respective fields.
  • According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the Nobel Prize is five separate prizes (Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace), awarded annually to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.
      • Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer and industrialist best known for inventing dynamite.
      • In his will, he directed that all of his “remaining assets” be used to establish five prizes known as the “Nobel Prizes.”
  • Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1901, five years after Nobel’s death.
      • The economics award, officially known as the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, was established in 1968 by Sweden’s central bank, not by Nobel.
      • The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Norway, while the other prizes are presented in Sweden.
  • The Nobel Prize is administered by the Nobel Foundation and its winners (known as a “laureate”) are selected by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
  • Each prize is worth 10 million kronor (nearly $900,000) and will be handed out with a diploma and gold medal on December 10 – the date of Nobel’s death in 1896.
  • A prize may not be shared by more than three individuals, but the Nobel Peace Prize may be awarded to organisations with more than three members.
  • Although Nobel Prizes are not given posthumously, if a person is nominated for one and dies before receiving it, the prize is still given.