Behind this Nobel Prize is a very human story: There is a little Neanderthal in all of us | Rebecca and Raj Sykes

TNeanderthals won the Nobel Prize. Well, approx. Even if most people haven’t heard of it Svante Paputhe Swedish geneticist whose work on ancient genomics and human evolution has awarded him the 2022 Prize for Physiology or Medicine, or the exact science behind paleogenomics and ancient DNA, they certainly understand. You have I heard about Neanderthals.

In honor of his contribution to building this incredibly vital field of paleogenomics, the award is well deserved: vision, persistence, and pioneering methods for recovering and sequencing extremely ancient and fragile genetic material. But it is also an acknowledgment of the astonishing discoveries about our deep history that have come from ancient genomics, which holds many untapped secrets about who we are today, including settling the long-debated question of whether Neanderthals And the sane man Face each other and, let’s say, “warm up” on icy tundra nights (the answer is yes, many times).

For the research communities, the award also appears to be an acknowledgment of the importance of work in paleogenomics, human origin and archaeology more broadly – and its continuing importance. Research in the twenty-first century on the relationships of humans, including Neanderthals, is a fully interdisciplinary collaborative endeavor. All types of material analyzes are performed in various ways. We use photogrammetry or laser scanning to record entire caves in 3D; Trace how stone tools are moved across the ground; Inspect the fine seams inside old stoves; Even choose the starches saved in the pits between the old teeth. And the emergence of the ability to retrieve ancient genomics from very ancient contexts has been nothing short of revolutionary. Today, DNA can be extracted not only from bones, but even from cave deposits: the dust of long life that has disappeared, waiting to be found for thousands of years. It made it possible to assess individual genetic profiles of Neanderthals, opening windows to the history and interactions of previously unseen populations.

More than a decade after the first big discoveries, today there is a huge community of researchers in palaeogenomics, thanks in large part to Pääbo, with many training with him. Among the younger generations at the front end of sampling, processing and analytical work – who may be the first to make and learn about major new discoveries – are many women. Among them is Mateja Hajdenjak of the Crick Institute, whose work has identified complex patterns of interbreeding between Neanderthals and the most ancient. sane man In Europe, Samantha Braun of the University of Tübingen, whose meticulous work on unidentified bone scraps found the only known first-generation hybrid, a girl whose mother was a Neanderthal and her father a Denisovan (a hominin from eastern Eurasia). Besides using scientific clout, they overturn old ideas that the “hard sciences” of statistics and white coats (or, in ancient genomics, whole-body protection) are masculine domains.

As an incredibly fast-moving field, paleogenomics has accomplished an enormous amount in a relatively short period of time. Innovative approaches are constantly being developed, and it must be recognized, even for those of us who work in human origins, that keeping up with new methods and terminology can be challenging. The speed of progress, especially in competitive academic contexts, has led to a number of ethical issues. While much is being addressed, the direction of some research may soon force the field to establish formal standards and draw ethical red lines when reconstructing Neanderthal brains using genetic engineering, for example.

Ultimately, while deciphering the genomes of ancient hominins allowed us to identify the inherited genes we have today—hence the physiology or medicine component of the Nobel Prize—the recognition of Pääbo’s work seems to revolve around much deeper themes, resonating with the human spirit. primitive. Since the discovery of their fossils more than 165 years ago, science has been engaged in dethroning sane mandowngrading us from special creations to something that’s still cool but isn’t entirely unique.

Paleogenomics has bolstered this view of a land that hosted many species of humans, at least five of which were still roaming just 40,000 years ago. Translate that number into a generational scale, and you’ll see a chain of just 2,000 people holding hands. Ancient DNA confirmed that we are integral to a rich history of hominin diversity, and that we continue to embody that history ourselves. Besides the genetic material that we acquired “by side” through interbreeding with Neanderthals and other species, recent study I found that less than 10% of our genome is characteristic of sane manUniquely developed in us.

Remarkably, popular understanding has also changed. While some still disparage “Neanderthal” as a slander, it now appears somewhat stripped from public viewpoints. Archaeological evidence of Neanderthals’ complex and sophisticated minds, combined with genetic revelations of how close we really were to them, has changed opinion about who they were, and what that meant for us. The knowledge that Neanderthal things still existed today—in every human heart, throbbing with fear or joy—has created a new emotional connection not only to them, but to all of our other human relationships. It also underscores the fact that they, and we, have always been part of the planetary web of life.

The most profound legacy of Pääbo’s founding of paleogenomics is, or should be, humility. Because it turns out that many of the oldest sane man The inhabitants who eventually entered Eurasia shared the same fate with the Neanderthals they met and mingled with. Their lineages disappeared culturally but also genetically, and they did not leave behind descendants among the living humans. Perhaps the greatest legacy they have left us is the understanding that our story is not one of predestined and extraordinary success, but a mixture of serendipity and serendipity; And being the last steadfast of a hominin isn’t necessarily something to be proud of.

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