The study of human evolution that harnessed precious snippets of DNA found in fossils that are tens of thousands of years old won this year's prize.
The work of Svante Pbo led to the discovery of a new group of hominins called the Denisovans.
The origins of the immune system and mechanisms of adaptation to life at high altitudes have been traced by tracing how genes flowed between ancient hominin populations.
The first discovery of an ancient-human hybrid is a mother and father.
David Reich, a population geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said that Pbo's win was an extraordinary recognition of what he did in putting together everything that needed to be done to accomplish this miracle.
Pbo said at the press conference that he didn't initially believe he had won the prize when he got the call from Sweden. He thought it was a prank by his group.
The Natural History Museum in London says that Pbo's work has changed our understanding of the past. It is central to human evolutionary studies now.
Pbo had to find a way to analyse the damaged and contaminated DNA that had been exposed to the elements. The Neanderthal genome was published in 2010 and was worked on by him and his team. This genetic analysis led to the finding that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred and that a small percentage of the genome of modern humans of European or Asian descent can be traced back to the Neanderthals.
A 40,000-year-old finger bone was discovered in a southern Siberia cave in 2008. It was found to be from an individual from a new group of hominins. The Denisovans were named after the cave in which the bones were found. Billions of people have Denisovan DNA in their genomes, and ancient humans living in Asia interbred with this group.
There is an uneasy relationship between archaeology and ancient genetics.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the field of ancient DNA research was plagued by concerns over the safety of modern human genetic material. Contamination is no longer abogeyman thanks to methods developed in Pbo's laboratory.
At the Francis Crick Institute in London, Pontus Skoglund was a palaeogeneticst. We have an approach whereContamination is not a major issue anymore.
Important implications for modern medicine can be found in the work of Pbo. Although the proportion of the human genome comprised of archaic DNA is small, it seems to punch above its weight, making an important contribution to the risks of diseases. Denisovans has genes that are linked to high- altitude adaptation.
Reich says that the fact that a lot of people today have Neanderthal genes is important to who we are. The implications of that for health is something that will be with us for the rest of our time as a species.
Neanderthal ancestry is revealed by the oldest DNA from a Homosapien.
It is now possible to identify unique human genes with the availability of multiple Neanderthals and Denisovans' genomes. In September, researchers showed that a gene variant found in humans but not in Neanderthals or Denisovans is related to the growth of brain organoids in a lab. We've never understood what makes humans.
Pbo is described as intense and driven by researchers. There is a generation of palaeogeneticists who are pushing the field ever further.
A palaeogeneticist at Tel Aviv University in Israel who did her PhD under Pbo's supervision says her mentor has an "uncanny" ability to see the larger picture while remaining laser focused on details. The sequence of maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA matched that of a Neanderthal when Slon worked on the remains. But, when publishing those results, Pbo urged Slon to hold off on making a decision until they had a better idea of their parents' nuclear genes. He wouldn't let me write that it's a Neanderthal because we didn't know that
Reich said that working with Pbo and the team he organized to sequence and analyse the first Neanderthal genomes was inspiring. Reich says it was the best consortium. The type of data they were producing was special and unique. Reich decided to set up his own lab.
It is difficult to imagine where the field would be without Pbo. He is the originator of the field.
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