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Swedish paleontologist who discovered that there’s a bit of Neanderthal in all of us wins Nobel Prize for Medicine – as Covid vaccine breakthroughs are shunned again

  • Professor Svante Pääbo’s discovery was called a ‘seemingly impossible task’ 
  • He received the call to congratulate him while enjoying a coffee this morning 
  • Professor Pääbo pipped the scientists behind the mRNA Covid vaccines which have saved millions of lives during the pandemic 

A Swedish ‘DNA hunter’ who effectively proved that Neanderthals are still alive was today awarded a Nobel Prize.

Professor Svante Pääbo’s ‘seemingly impossible’ task saw him prove interbreeding occurred between humans’ closest extinct relatives — the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

The 67-year-old, who received a call to congratulate him while enjoying a coffee this morning, pipped the scientists behind the mRNA Covid vaccines which have saved millions of lives during the pandemic, who were thought to be the frontrunners.

Scientist Svante Paabo won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries ‘concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution,’ the award-giving body said

The 67-year-old, who received a call to congratulate him while enjoying a coffee this morning, pipped the scientists behind the mRNA Covid vaccines which have saved millions of lives during the pandemic, who were thought to be the frontrunners

Thomas Perlmann (pictured right, cialis 10 mg first time alongside a committee), secretary of the Nobel Committee, announced the winner on Monday at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden

The prize, arguably among the most prestigious in the scientific world, is awarded by the Nobel Assembly of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($900,357).

It is the first of this year’s batch of prizes.

Professor Pääbo, who has worked in academia for 40 years, is based at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Committee, announced the winner on Monday at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

‘He was overwhelmed, he was speechless. Very happy,’ said Thomas Perlmann, secretary for the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, who called Professor Pääbo with the news.

‘He asked if he could tell anyone and asked if he could tell his wife and I said that was okay. He was incredibly thrilled about this award.’

Paabo, son of the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Sune Bergström, has been credited with transforming the study of human origins after developing approaches to allow for the examination of DNA sequences from archaeological and paleontological remains.

His key achievements include sequencing an entire Neanderthal genome to reveal the link between extinct people and modern humans.

He also brought to light the existence of a previously unknown human species called the Denisovans, from a 40,000-year-old fragment of a finger bone discovered in Siberia.

Created in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and wealthy businessman Alfred Nobel, the prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace have been awarded since 1901, though the economics prize is a later addition.

The Covid pandemic has placed medical research centre stage with many expecting that the development of the vaccines that have allowed the world to regain some sense of normality may eventually be rewarded.

Still, it typically takes many years for any given research to be honoured, with the committees charged with picking the winners looking to determine its full value with some certainty amongst what is always a packed field of contenders.

Past winners in the field include a string of famous researchers, notably Alexander Fleming, who shared the 1945 prize for the discovery of penicillin. 

Last year, the Medicine Prize went to US pair David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for discoveries on receptors for temperature and touch, which have been used to develop treatments for a wide range of diseases and conditions, including chronic pain.

The Nobel season continues this week with the announcement of the winners of the Physics Prize on Tuesday and the Chemistry Prize on Wednesday.

They will be followed by the much-anticipated prizes for Literature on Thursday and Peace on Friday.

Among those cited as possible Peace Prize laureates are the International Criminal Court, tasked with investigating war crimes in Ukraine, jailed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

The Economics Prize winds things up on Monday, October 10.

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