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Why did a geneticist learning Neanderthal DNA win the 2022 Nobel Prize in Drugs? – Healthcare Economist

The 2022 Nobel Prize for Drugs went to Svante Pääbo. Not like many former winners of the Nobel Prize in Drugs, Dr. Pääbo by no means truly invented any particular medication or class of drugs. Fairly the award was given “for his discoveries regarding the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”. The press launch from the Nobel web site offers some perception, however why does analysis on three varieties of hominids (trendy Homo sapiens [i.e., us], Neanderthals, and Denisovans) deserve a Nobel Prize in Drugs. A story in Quillette explains:

As a graduate immunology scholar within the early Nineteen Eighties, the younger Swede carried out molecular genetic analyses on 23 Egyptian mummies, one in every of which—a 2,400-year-old youngster specimen—proved to include clonable DNA. The invention yielded the primary scientific paper ever revealed with regards to DNA extracted from fossil tissues.

The then-available know-how didn’t enable Pääbo to sequence the mum’s whole genome, nor these of the Neanderthal specimens he would later research. And it wouldn’t be till 2014—following 20 years of analysis—that Pääbo and his crew on the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology deciphered a Neanderthal genome to such extent that it may very well be systematically in comparison with its trendy human equal. Within the course of, they pioneered laboratory and computational options to a primary downside of paleontology: In the course of the passage of tens of 1000’s of years, the DNA contained in bones sometimes dissolves into tiny fragments. Any scientist searching for to reconstruct an historic genome should not solely patch it collectively from numerous remoted bits and items, but additionally apply analytical strategies to filter out contaminating DNA from millennia price of bone-colonizing fungus and microorganisms.
Earlier than Pääbo demonstrated in any other case, some scientists believed that Neanderthals might need been our personal ancestors. Nonetheless, Pääbo decided that Neanderthals and trendy people developed in parallel—the previous in Europe and Asia, the latter in Africa—with their newest widespread ancestor dwelling about 800,000 years in the past.

Whereas the technical achievement right here is spectacular, maybe the largest perception was the invention of a brand new group of early hominins often known as Denisovans. The invention of the Denisovans are described beneath in a 2010 article in Nature:

It represents a hitherto unknown kind of hominin mtDNA that shares a standard ancestor with anatomically trendy human and Neanderthal mtDNAs about 1.0 million years in the past. This means that it derives from a hominin migration out of Africa distinct from that of the ancestors of Neanderthals and of contemporary people. The stratigraphy of the cave the place the bone was discovered means that the Denisova hominin lived shut in time and area with Neanderthals in addition to with trendy people.

Whereas Neanderthal DNA includes as much as 4% of contemporary human DNA in elements of Europe and Asia, Denisovan DNA is believed to comprise as much as 6% of contemporary human DNA in pats of Papua New Guinea and Melanesia.

Thus, if we wish to perceive modern-day human DNA, Dr. Pääbo’s discoveries concerning hominin DNA could also be very important.



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