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How the Study of Ancient DNA Traces Human Origins

In the early years of his career as a scientist, Svante Pääbo changed the course of his studies from molecular biology to evolutionary genetics – and at the same time the course of the latter scientific field itself. By drying a piece of a calf’s liver to reproduce the mummification  process in ancient Egypt, he showed that genetic material could survive in dead tissues. During the following three decades he developed techniques that made it possible to retrieve DNA from extinct animals that are thousands of years old. In 2010, Pääbo and his colleagues reached international fame when they published the first draft version of the Neandertal genome in /Science/. This groundbreaking study also presented evidence that many people today carry parts of the Neandertal genome in their DNA. Early this year, Pääbo’s laboratory published a complete version of the Neandertal genome as well as the first DNA sequences from what is probably a 400,000-year-old ancestor of Neandertals. At Falling Walls, Svante Pääbo will present an overview of what the study of the genomes of extinct forms of humans has taught us about ourselves, and what discoveries may lie ahead.

Svante Pääbo

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Svante Pääbo (born 20 April 1955) is a Swedish biologist specializing in evolutionary genetics. He was born in 1955 in Stockholm, father Sune Bergström (the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Bengt I. Samuelsson and John R. Vane in 1982) and mother Estonian Karin Pääbo, earned his PhD from Uppsala University in 1986. Since 1997, he has been director of the Department of Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Svante Pääbo is an honorary doctor at several universities, a member of eight scientific academies including the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the German National Academy Leopoldina and the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. He has received numerous scientific prizes and awards and has given more than 400 scientific and popular talks on his work.

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