Svante Pääbo’s speech at the Nobel Prize banquet, 10 December 2022.
Your Royal Highnesses,
Dear fellow Laureates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute and the Nobel Foundation for this great honor.
I did not ever imagine I would be standing here. I grew up not far from here, in Bagarmossen, a suburb of Stockholm where one was not necessarily expected to go to university.
But my mother, Karin Pääbo, who had come to Sweden as a refugee from Estonia in 1944 when she was 19, had other ideas. She had studied chemistry and transmitted an enthusiasm for learning and school work to me, and – importantly – supported any nerdy interests in archaeology and Egyptology that I developed.
So as a graduate student in the early 80s, I felt that it was OK to pursue a secret project where I tried to recover some DNA from Egyptian mummies, alongside my more official projects in immunology.
Today, it is amazing to me to contemplate that this early hobby of mine eventually contributed to the establishment of an entirely new research field where many large and excellent groups are now active.
There were errors and setbacks along the way, but today the information extracted from ancient genomes contributes to our understanding of the evolution and history of humans and many other organisms.
This research field has given us new perspectives on how people have moved around our planet and shown that they have always mixed with each other. And we have learned about Neandertals and Denisovans, earlier forms of humans, and found that they live on as part of the ancestry of many people today and that genetic variants passed on from Neandertals and Denisovans influence our biology. We are also only just beginning to learn about how our biology may differ from that of our ancestors and evolutionary relatives.
The development of this research field has been – and continues to be – a great adventure for me!
Finally, I want to acknowledge the institutions that made my scientific adventure possible, particularly the Max Planck Society, and say that I accept this honor as a recognition not only of the work of our research group, but of everybody who has contributed to this field as well.
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