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Behind this Nobel prize is a very human story: There’s a bit of Neanderthal in all of us

By Rebecca Wragg Sykes

10 Oct 2022 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

This article details the work of recent Nobel prize winner, Svante Pääbo, and helps us to understand why his work is so relevant to our daily lives.

The Neanderthals have won a Nobel prize. Well, almost. Even if most people haven’t heard of Svante Pääbo, the Swedish geneticist whose work on ancient genomes and human evolution has landed him with 2022’s award for physiology or medicine, or the exact science behind palaeogenomics and ancient DNA, they certainly have heard of Neanderthals.

Honouring his contribution to building this incredibly vibrant field of palaeogenomics, the award is much deserved: you need vision, persistence and pioneering methods to recover and sequence immensely old, fragile genetic material. But it’s also a recognition of the astonishing revelations about our deep history that have come from palaeogenomics, which holds many untapped secrets about who we are today, including settling the long-debated question of whether Neanderthals and Homo sapiens ever encountered each other and, let’s say, “warmed up” those icy tundra nights (the answer is yes, many times).

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