Svante Pääbo is a Swedish geneticist who came to the limelight on 3 October 2022, after he won the Noble Peace Prize for his work in the field of Physiology or Medicine.
Svante Pääbo was born on Wednesday, 20 April 1955 (age 67 years; as of 2022) in Stockholm, Sweden. After completing his school studies at the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter School in 1976, he enrolled at the University of Uppsala, where he pursued his higher education in the History of Science and Egyptology; however, in 1977, he left Egyptology to pursue a course in medicine. Talking about leaving Egyptology, he said
I think I had a far too romantic idea of what Egyptology was. I thought it would be all about discovering mummies and pyramids, but, in Uppsala at least, it was quite linguistically oriented. Instead of combing the Egyptian desert for lost tombs, I spent much of my time combing the library for books on the grammatical construction of hieroglyphics and the Coptic language.
In 1981, upon completing his higher education, Svante Pääbo pursued PhD in Molecular Biology at the University of Uppsala and earned his PhD in 1986.
Height (approx.): 6′ 2″
Weight (approx.): 65 kg
Hair Colour: Ash Blonde
Eye Colour: Hazel Green
Parents & Siblings
His father, Karl Sune Detlof Bergström, was a biochemist who won a Noble Peace Prize in 1982. His mother, Karin Pääbo, was a biochemist. She died in 2013. He has a half-brother named Rurik Reenstierna.
A photo of Karl Sune Detlof Bergström
Note: According to Svante Pääbo, he was born through an extramarital affair between his parents.
Wife & Children
His wife, Linda Vigilant, is an American geneticist with whom he has published several research papers. The couple got married to each other in 2008. He has a son and daughter with Linda.
Svante Pääbo’s wife Linda Vigilant
In 1979, Svante went to New Jersey, the US, where he not only served as a teacher but also as a part-time researcher till 1980 after which he came back to Sweden and began pursuing a PhD in Molecular Biology. In 1986, he published several research papers that focused on linking the modern-day human DNA structure with the ancient human species. Several sources claim that one of his most well-known research papers is “Molecular genetic investigations of ancient human remains,” which has been cited in more than 76 research papers. From 1986 to 1987, he conducted post-doctoral research in Molecular Biology at the University of Zürich, Switzerland. There, he published several research papers like “Molecular genetic methods in archaeology – a prospect,” “Is allograft rejection a clue to the mechanism promoting MHC polymorphism?” and “A short sequence in the COOH-terminus makes an adenovirus membrane glycoprotein a resident of the endoplasmic reticulum.” After completing his post-doctoral research in 1987, he went to London, where he worked at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund for a few months after which he went to the US, where he conducted post-doctoral DNA research in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of California. He remained at the University of California till 1990 after which he returned to Sweden, where he taught Medical Genetics at the University of Uppsala. Later, he shifted to Munich, Germany, where he taught Biology at the University of Munich till 1997 after which he shifted to Leipzig, where he joined the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and founded the Department of Evolutionary Biology and became its director. In 1997, Svante, along with his colleagues, successfully managed to extract the DNA of a Neanderthal, a species of human beings which went extinct 40,000 years ago. According to Svante, it was challenging to extract the DNA from a 10,000-year-old body due to the risk of contamination. Talking about it, he said,
The field experienced a revolution with the emergence of so-called next-generation sequencing technology. When an organism dies, the DNA in its cells begins to break down – over time it splits into smaller and smaller chunks, as well as accumulating other forms of damage. It also gets contaminated with vast amounts of microbial DNA from the wider environment. The new sequencing machines could be used to isolate the human genetic material from bacterial DNA and then stitch together the tiny fragments into a readable sequence.”
In August 2002, Svante published a research paper titled “Molecular evolution of FOXP2, a gene involved in speech and language” in which he briefly talked about different types of mutations in the human FOXP2 gene that causes speech and language-related disorders among children. In 2006, he announced that his department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology would attempt to map the entire genetic structure of the extinct Neanderthals, including the genetic variations found in them. During the 2003 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology presented the first phase of the DNA sequencing of the Neanderthals that it had created by pairing over three billion DNA pairs. The main aim of DNA sequencing was to establish a connection between the Homo Sapiens (the modern-day humans) and the Neanderthals. Talking to the media about it, Svante said,
This will be the first time the entire genome of an extinct organism has been sequenced. Now study of the more complete genome will allow scientists to examine Neanderthals’ relationship with modern humans as never before. A preliminary analysis of the sequence suggests that Neanderthals contributed few, if any, genes to humans via inbreeding. However, there is no positive evidence that it occurred at all.”
In 2010, Svante, along with his team, published a report on the finger bone belonging to a Denisovan, an ancient human species, that was excavated from a cave in Siberia in 2008. In the report, Svante established that the Denisovans who resided in the Scandinavian region shared a similar genome structure to that of a modern-day Tibetan. In the same year, Svante published another scientific journal titled A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome in which he concluded that approximately 60,000 years ago, the homo sapiens interbred with the Neanderthals in the Middle Eastern parts of Asia. Talking about it, he said,
A complete understanding of this is really a stepwise process. What we have done here is take a really important step forward. We can say exactly what changes happened recently with very high resolution. This is just the beginning of the exploration of human uniqueness that is now possible. Now, the Neanderthal genome strongly suggests those genes were not lost, and that many of us outside of Africa have some Neanderthal inheritance.”
On 30 September 2020, Svante published another journal titled The ancient Neanderthal hand in severe COVID-19 in which he established a correlation between a strain found in the Neanderthal’s genome structure and COVID-19. In his research, Svante claimed that those humans who have inherited “Chromosome 3” in their DNA from their Neanderthal ancestors are more likely to be severely affected by COVID-19 than those who did not. Talking about the findings in his research, Svante said,
It is striking that the genetic heritage from Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic. The variants came over to the ancestors of modern humans about 60,000 years ago. The identified genetic region is very long, spanning 49.4 thousand base pairs, and the variants that impose a higher risk to severe COVID-19 are strongly linked.”
Svante Pääbo with a human skull
Noble Peace Prize
On 3 October 2022, for his research in the field of genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution, Svante Pääbo won the Noble Peace Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Say good morning to our new medicine laureate Svante Pääbo!
Pääbo received the news while enjoying a cup of coffee. After the shock wore off, one of the first things he wondered was if he could share the news with his wife, Linda.
Photo: Linda Vigilant pic.twitter.com/l27hnzojaL
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 3, 2022
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- In 1992, Svante received Leibniz Prize, which was presented to him by German Science Foundation.
- In 1992, Svante received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Zurich, Switzerland.
- In 1998, Svante won Max Delbrück Medal in Berlin, Germany.
- In 2000, Svante received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Helsinki, Finland.
- In the same year, Svante won the Olof Rudbeck Prize, which was presented to him by the Upsala Medical Society.
- In 2003, Svante won the Leipzig Science Prize.
- In the same year, Svante won Ernst Schering Prize, presented to him by the Ernst Schering Foundation.
- In 2005, Svante received the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine, which was given to him by the Swiss Louis-Jeantet Foundation.
- In the same year, the University of Würzburg, Germany, endowed Svante with Virchow Medal.
- In 2007, Time magazine listed Svante’s name in its 100 Most Influential People in the World list.
- The Republic of Estonia bestowed Svante with the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana in 2008.
- In the same year, Svante was honoured with the Dragutin Gorjanović Kramberger, which was given to him by the Croatian Anthropological Society.
- Germany bestowed Pour le Mérite on Svante in 2008.
- The Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, presented Svante with an Honorary Doctorate in 2008.
- In 2009, Svante was awarded Kistler Prize by the Foundation For the Future.
- In 2010, the Federation of European Biochemical Societies awarded Svante with Theodor Bücher Medal.
- In 2011, Svante received the Newcomb-Cleveland Prize, which was given to him by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
- In the same year, Svante won the Biochemical Analysis Prize that was given to him by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Klinische Chemie und Laboratoriumsmedizin (DGKL).
- In 2012, the Swedish government bestowed H.M. The King’s Medal on Svante.
- In the same year, Svante received an Honorary Doctorate in Medicine from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
- The Gruber Foundation at Yale University awarded Svante with Gruber Genetics Prize in the US in 2013.
- In 2015, the Russian Academy of Sciences presented Svante with Lomonosov Large Gold Medal and gave him an Honorary Doctorate.
- The Keio University in Japan presented Keio Medical Science Prize to Svante in 2016.
- In 2017, Svante received a NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award in Zurich, Switzerland.
- In 2018, Svante won the Nakasone Award, the Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, the Körber European Science Prize, and the Nierenberg Prize.
- In 2019, Svante received the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences in New York, USA.
- In the same year, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology presented Svante with an Honorary Doctorate.
- The Linnean Society of London, in 2019, presented Svante with the Darwin-Wallace Medal.
- In 2020, the Japanese government bestowed the Japan Prize on Svante.
A photo of Svante Pääbo with his Japan Prize
- In the same year, Yale University presented Svante with an Honorary Doctorate in Science.
- In 2021, Svante received the Massry Prize and the Prix International Fyssen.
- In 2022, Svante won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
- Svante Pääbo has served on the scientific advisory board of several councils like Pyrosequencing AB, Foundation for Strategic Research, Ancient Biomolecules Initiative, Science & Engineering Research Council, and many more.
- According to Svante Pääbo, he is bisexual. Talking about his sexual orientation, Svante said,
Throughout my life, I have had many girlfriends and boyfriends as well. Earlier I thought I was a gay, but when I met my wife, Linda, I realised that it was not the case, and that I am bisexual.”
- In March 2014, Svante Pääbo was invited to give a speech at the international talk show TEDx.
Svante Pääbo’s photograph taken in 2014 during his speech at TEDx
- In 2014, Svante Pääbo published a book titled Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes.
The cover page of Svante Pääbo’s book titled Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes
- Svante Pääbo consumes alcohol.
Svante Pääbo holding a glass of champagne