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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Joe Pinkstone

Swedish scientist Svante Paabo wins Nobel Prize 40 years after father won same award

Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo won the 2022 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Photo: Reuters/Lisi Niesner

A Swedish scientist who discovered that Neanderthals and humans interbred has won the Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology, 40 years after his father won the same award.

Svante Paabo is one of the founders of the field of paleogenetics and devised numerous technical and analytical methods to garner more information from fossilised remains and was the first person to recreate the full Neanderthal genome.

The geneticist discovered that humans and Neanderthals cross-bred and that modern people harbour Neanderthal DNA to this day.

The 67-year-old academic won 10 million Swedish krona (€924,000) in prize money from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.

Prof Paabo’s father, Sune Bergstrom, won the same prize in 1982.

It means Prof Paabo is the eighth person who had a parent that was also a Nobel winner. 

Speaking in a phone call to the Nobel committee, Prof Paabo said: “I think the biggest influence in my life was my mother with whom I grew up.

"My father, I did have some contact to and he took a big interest in my work, but it was not that close a relationship as with my mother.”

His parents never married and Prof Bergstrom had another family.

Prof Paabo said his relationship with his father made him realise that even great Nobel laureates are just “normal human beings”.

Prof Paabo published the first Neanderthal genome sequence in 2010 from various bone samples and found that humans and Neanderthals could be traced back to a common ancestor who lived around 800,000 years ago.

His work led to the startling revelation that European and Asian people have around 2pc Neanderthal DNA.

Prof Thomas Perlmann, the secretary general of the Nobel Assembly, said he informed Prof Paabo about his recognition over the phone.

Prof Paabo was “overwhelmed” and “very happy”, he said.

Prof Paabo said he thought the call from Sweden was something to do his summer house there.

“So I was just gulping down the last cup of tea to go and pick up my daughter at her nanny where she has had an overnight stay,” Prof Paabo said in a audio recording posted on the Nobel website.

“And then I got this call from Sweden and I of course thought it had something to do with our little summer house in Sweden.

"I thought the lawn mower had broken down or something.”

Asked if he thought he would get the award, he said: “No, I have received a couple of prizes before but I somehow did not think that this really would qualify for a Nobel Prize.”

Born in Stockholm, Prof Paabo studied medicine and biochemistry at Uppsala University before creating a scientific discipline called “paleogenomics”, which helped shed light on the genetic differences that distinguish living humans from extinct hominins.

(© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

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