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Svante Pääbo to receive the 2018 HFSP Nakasone Award

19 October 2017 Human Frontier Science Program

The Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) has announced that the 2018 HFSP Nakasone Award has been awarded to Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) for his discovery of the extent to which hybridization with Neanderthals and Denisovans has shaped the evolution of modern humans, and his development of techniques for sequencing DNA from fossils.

The HFSP Nakasone Award was established to honor scientists who have made key breakthroughs in fields at the forefront of the life sciences. It recognizes the vision of Japan’s former Prime Minister Nakasone in the creation of the International Human Frontier Science Program. Svante Pääbo will present the HFSP Nakasone Lecture at the 18th annual meeting of HFSP awardees to be held in Toronto, in July 2018.

Svante Pääbo’s meticulous work laid the foundation for the expanding field of molecular archeology which involves the recovery, sequencing and analysis of DNA sequences from ancient remains of paleontological and archaeological origin. This has opened the possibility to analyze whole genomes of extinct organisms.

Pääbo launched the ambitious and daring project to sequence the Neanderthal genome that provided evidence that about 2% of the genomes of all present-day humans outside Africa come from Neanderthals. This solved a long-standing debate about if modern humans mixed with Neanderthals when they spread out of Africa.

In his recent work Pääbo sequenced the complete genomes of Neanderthals and their distant Asian relatives at unprecedented accuracy. These genome sequences revealed almost all the changes that have occurred in the genome of modern humans since their separation from the common ancestor shared with their closest evolutionary relatives - Neanderthals and Denisovans.

In summary, Pääbo has discovered that DNA can be preserved for thousands of years and has systematically developed techniques to isolate and study such DNA.

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