Svante Pääbo Biography

Svante Pääbo, a Swedish geneticist with a focus on evolutionary genetics, was born on April 20, 1955 (Swedish: [svant paebo]). He was one of the pioneers of paleogenetics and has put a lot of effort into understanding Neanderthal DNA. In 1997, he was named the department’s director at the Leipzig, Germany-based Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Additionally, he teaches at the Japan-based Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.

In 2022, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”.

Education and early life

Pääbo was raised by his mother, Estonian chemist Karin Pääbo, who was born and raised in Stockholm. Sune Bergström, a biochemist, shared the 1982 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with John R. Vane and Bengt I. Samuelsson. Rurik Reenstierna, Pääbo’s only sibling by his father, was also born in 1955.

In 1986, he received a Ph.D. from Uppsala University for his studies on the immune system’s modulation by adenoviruses’ E19 protein.

One of the pioneers of the field of paleogenetics, which use genetic techniques to examine early humans and other extinct populations, is Pääbo.

It was Pääbo and colleagues who first successfully sequenced Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), using a sample from the Feldhofer grotto in the Neander valley. They published their findings in 1997.

The “language gene,” FOXP2, which is absent or damaged in certain people with language impairments, was the subject of research findings released by Pääbo’s department in August 2002.

Pääbo revealed a goal to rebuild the whole Neanderthal genome in 2006. He was ranked among the top 100 influential persons of 2007 by Time magazine.

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Chicago in February 2009, it was revealed that the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has finished the first draft of the Neanderthal genome.


Together with the 454 Life Sciences Corporation, more than 3 billion base pairs have been sequenced.

The Denisova hominin was a previously unidentified extinct member of the genus Homo, according to a report on the DNA analysis of a finger bone discovered in the Denisova Cave in Siberia that was released in March 2010 by Pääbo and his colleagues. With the finding of the Denisovan, DNA analysis was used for the first time to identify a previously unidentified hominid.

A draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome was released by Pääbo and his associates in the journal Science in May 2010. Additionally, he and his team came to the conclusion that Eurasian people (but not Sub-Saharan African humans) and Neanderthals most likely interbred. This notion of interbreeding between ancient and modern humans has broad mainstream acceptance in the scientific world. In Southern Europe, this DNA mixing of modern human and Neanderthal is thought to have taken place somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.

He wrote Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes in 2014, which combines elements of a memoir and popular science to tell the tale of the project to map the genome of a Neanderthal along with his theories about human evolution.

Pääbo discovered in 2020 that more severe effects on victims, such as the relative frequency of the need for hospitalization requirements and vulnerability to the COVID-19 disease, have been linked via DNA analysis to be expressed in genetic variants at chromosomal region 3, features that are linked to European Neanderthal ancestry. The likelihood that those affected may have a more severe version of the disease is increased by this structure. The investigation was conducted by Pääbo and his team at the Planck Institute and the Karolinska Institutet.

According to Google Scholar and Scopus, Pääbo has an h-index of 167 as of October 2022.


Awards and honors 

He was given the highest honor in German science, the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in 1992. In 2000, Pääbo was chosen to join the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He was awarded the esteemed Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine in 2005. Pääbo was admitted to the Order Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts in 2008. He was given the American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award that same year. Pääbo was given the 2009 Kistler Prize, which was announced by the Foundation for the Future in October 2009, for his work isolating and sequencing ancient DNA, which began in 1984 with a 2,400-year-old mummy. He received the Theodor Bücher Medal in June 2010 from the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) for his remarkable contributions to biochemistry and molecular biology. For his groundbreaking work in evolutionary genetics, he was awarded the Gruber Prize in Genetics in 2013. He received the DSc (honoris causa) degree from NUI Galway in June 2015. 2016 saw his election as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society, and 2017 saw him receive the Dan David Prize. For decoding the first Neanderthal genome, he won the Princess of Asturias Awards in scientific research in 2018, the Japan Prize in 2020, the Massry Prize in 2021, and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2022.


Personal life 

Pääbo revealed that he is openly bisexual in his 2014 book Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes. Prior to meeting Linda Vigilant, an American primatologist and geneticist whose “boyish charms” attracted him, he thought he was gay. They’ve written numerous papers together. In Leipzig, they are married and co-parenting a boy and a daughter.Leipzig