The Gruber Foundation proudly presents the 2013 Genetics Prize to Svante Pääbo for pioneering the analysis of ancient DNA.
Prior to Dr. Pääbo's research, scientists vacillated between defeatist and overly exuberant views of the feasibility of sequencing DNA older than a few hundred years. Through painstaking development of new methods for handling, extracting DNA from, and sequencing ancient samples, Dr. Pääbo determined whole-genome sequences from fossils as old as 80,000 years.
The ancient DNAs analyzed included the genomes of Neandertal and Denisova, extinct relatives of contemporary humans. Dr. Pääbo's studies established that although early humans and these extinct relatives were contemporary inhabitants of Europe and Asia, they last shared a common ancestor hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Strikingly, Dr. Pääbo's research demonstrated that certain segments derived from Neandertal and Denisovan genomes are found in modern humans, providing evidence of early interbreeding of these populations. His studies were a technological tour de force, opened new windows into the distant past, and provided fundamental insights into our origins.