Uppsala alumnus Svante Pääbo wins Nobel Prize in medicine

3 October 2022

Svante Pääbo holding a skull.

Svante Pääbo is an alumnus of Uppsala University, where he received a doctorate in medicine in 1986. He has returned several times to the University as visiting professor

Svante Pääbo, who received his doctorate from Uppsala University in 1986, has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for his discoveries concerning the genome of extinct hominins and human evolution”.

As explained by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet, “Through his pioneering research, Svante Pääbo achieved something seemingly impossible: sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans. He also made the sensational discovery of a previously unknown hominin, Denisova.” Furthermore, Pääbo made the important discovery that cross-breeding occurred between Homo sapiens and our extinct relatives after the migration out of Africa some 70,000 years ago. The gene transfers from extinct hominins that have left traces among present-day humans outside Africa have proven physiologically significant, for example, for human resistance to infections.

Svante Pääbo is an alumnus of Uppsala University, where he received a doctorate in medicine in 1986. He has returned several times to the University as visiting professor and has also been a member of the University Board. His most recent visit to Uppsala came in February, when he gave the annual Linnaeus lecture at the University

Vice-Chancellor Anders Hagfeldt thinks Svante Pääbo is an excellent and pleasing choice.

“His research identifying and mapping human origins is tremendously fascinating and of course it’s very pleasing that he is connected with Uppsala. I’m sure many people at the University are as happy as I am today, we have many fine researchers following in his footsteps,” he says.

Mattias Jakobsson, professor at the Department of Organismal Biology, who is also engaged in research on human evolution, had thought that Svante Pääbo was bound to win the prize sooner or later, though his name had not been mentioned much this year.

“It’s fantastic, both for him and for the entire field of research. And it’s very appropriate that it’s the prize in medicine, his latest work has focused on patterns of genetic variation due to our Neanderthal heritage. Some of these patterns relate to COVID-19, for example,” he says.