The Nobel Prize for Medicine was crowned on Monday by the pioneer of paleogenetics, the Swedish Svante Pääbo, for the complete sequencing of the Neanderthal genome and the foundation of this discipline that analyzes the DNA of ancient times to decipher human genes.
“By revealing the genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from the extinct hominins, their discoveries have laid the foundation for exploring what makes us humans unique,” the Nobel jury said.
67 years old and living in Germany for decades, Pääbo discovered in 2009 that 2% of genes had passed from these now-disappeared hominins to Homo sapiens.
This ancient flow of genes into modern man has a psychological impact, for example on the way our immune systems react to infections.
“The genetic differences between Homo sapiens and our closest extinct relatives were not known until they were identified thanks to the work of Pääbo,” the Nobel committee added in its decision.
Neanderthal man cohabited for a time with modern man in Europe, before totally disappearing around 30,000 years ago.
Pääbo, a native of Stockholm, received the Princess of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research in Spain in 2018.
His father, Sune Bergström, already received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1982. Svante Pääbo bears the surname of his mother, the Estonian chemist Karin Pääbo.
The prize is accompanied by a reward of 10 million crowns (about 900,000 dollars).
The Nobel Prize in Medicine will be followed by Physics on Tuesday, Chemistry on Wednesday and, the most anticipated, Literature on Thursday and Peace on Friday (in Oslo).
The most recently created Nobel Prize for Economics closes the 2022 season next Monday.
With this 113th Nobel Prize in Medicine, there are 226 individuals who have won the award since its creation, including 12 women. No organization has been rewarded, as it is prohibited in the regulations of the Karolinska Institute that awards the prizes.
– Male domination –
Last year, the award went to Americans Ardem Patapoutian and David Julius for their discoveries about how the nervous system transmits temperature and touch.
American researchers or researchers installed in the United States, of the male sex, widely dominate the scientific Nobel prizes of recent decades, despite the efforts of the juries to consecrate more women.
The 2021 Nobel season did not break the rule, with 12 men awarded and only one woman. All scientific awards went to men.
For the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, critics questioned by AFP are leaning towards a more familiar name, after two more discreet winners, the American poet Louise Glück in 2020 and the British novelist of Tanzanian origin Abdulrazak Gurnah last year.
The American Joyce Carol Oates, the French Annie Ernaux, the Russian Ludmila Ulitskaia or the Canadian Margaret Atwood would ratify the parity efforts of the jury in recent years.
On the betting sites, Frenchman Michel Houellebecq is currently the favourite. He is ahead of Salman Rushdie, the victim of an assassination attempt in August.
But it would be the Peace Prize that would have the most impact this year.
After having awarded two journalists, the Russian Dmitri Muratov and the Filipino Maria Ressa, will the Norwegian committee give an anti-Putin prize after the invasion of Ukraine?
Never since World War II has an interstate conflict occurred so close to Oslo.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), in charge of investigating war crimes in Ukraine, as well as the International Court of Justice, also based in the Netherlands, sound among the candidates. Also the imprisoned Russian opponent Alexei Navalni or the Belarusian opponent Svetlana Tijanóvskaya.
In the case of an award focused on climate and the environment, experts cite the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, perhaps together with the British naturalist David Attenborough or activists such as the Sudanese Nisreen Elsaim and the Ghanaian Chibeze Ezekiel.
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Nobel Prize in Medicine to Swedish Svante Pääbo, expert in evolutionary genetics