On behalf of Karolinska Institutet, I would like to extend my congratulations and best wishes to Professor Svante Pääbo, the recipient of this year’s Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine.
It is an extraordinary day when the Nobel Prize is announced. Awaiting the announcement in the Wallenberg Hall at the Nobel Forum, Karolinska Institutet, the room is replete with tensions and whispers, and there is almost a tangible excitement in the air. It is a day when I am especially proud to be a member of our global scientific community and share the joy of honoring outstanding achievements in our field.
An appreciated collaborative partner and honorary doctor
In 2012 Karolinska Institutet had the pleasure of appointing Professor Pääbo honorary doctor, with the motivation that he has made vital contributions to the university. Professor Pääbo adds continuously to the academic development of the multi-institute Science for Life Laboratory (SciLifeLab) and thus to Karolinska Institutet’s own academic growth. Moreover, he collaborates with KI researchers such as assistant professor Hugo Zeberg, on a continuous basis.
In fact, his connection to KI goes further back than this. Professor Pääbo’s father, biochemist Sune Bergström was president of KI 1969-1977, and himself a Nobel laureate in 1982, along with Bengt Samuelsson and John R. Vane, honored for their discoveries concerning prostaglandins.
Professor Pääbo’s merits as a laureate cannot be overemphasized. I wholeheartedly agree with the motivation given by the Nobel Assembly:
Through his pioneering research, Svante Pääbo accomplished something seemingly impossible: sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans. He also made the sensational discovery of a previously unknown hominin, Denisova. Importantly, Pääbo also found that gene transfer had occurred from these now extinct hominins to Homo sapiens following the migration out of Africa around 70,000 years ago. This ancient flow of genes to present-day humans has physiological relevance today, for example affecting how our immune system reacts to infections.
Pääbo’s seminal research gave rise to an entirely new scientific discipline; paleogenomics. By revealing genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human.
Research that connects yesterday, today, and tomorrow
Svante Pääbo’s research shows the importance of understanding long-term developments in medical research. Through his research we see our human connection through the ages, from the Neanderthals to today. Understanding genomes from tens of thousands of years back in time has a significant bearing on human physiology today, for example for our insight in the immune system.
Finally, I would like to address Svante Pääbo himself: Congratulations! Today is no doubt a whirlwind of a day for you. I can only imagine how many phone calls, emails, and text messages you have received. But when you get a chance to sit down, I hope you reflect with great pride on your outstanding achievements.