Svante Pääbo

Svante Pääbo

Director, Department of Genetics

Svante Pääbo is the Director of the MPI EVA’s Department of Genetics. Among his achievements are the first demonstration of DNA survival in an ancient Egyptian mummy, the first amplification of ancient DNA, the first study of the DNA from the Iceman found in the Alps, and the first retrieval of DNA from a Neanderthal in 1997. In 2010, Svante Pääbo initiated and organised an effort to sequence the entire Neanderthal genome. The first scientific overview of the genome was published in 2009 and was front-page news word-wide.

BREAKING THE WALL OF THE NEANDERTAL GENOME. 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.