Swedish paleogeneticist Svante Paabo, who sequenced the genome of the Neanderthal and discovered the previously unknown hominin Denisova, on Monday won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.
"By revealing genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human," the Nobel committee said.
Paabo found that gene transfer had occurred from these now-extinct hominins to Homo sapiens.
"This ancient flow of genes to present-day humans has physiological relevance today, for example affecting how our immune system reacts to infections," the jury said.
Paabo also brought to light the existence of a previously unknown human species called the Denisovans, from a 40,000-year-old fragment of a finger bone discovered in Siberia.
"He was overwhelmed, he was speechless. Very happy," said Thomas Perlmann, secretary for the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, who called Paabo with the news.
"He asked if he could tell anyone and asked if he could tell his wife and I said that was okay. He was incredibly thrilled about this award."
Paabo, 67, who takes home the award sum of 10 million Swedish kronor (US$901,500), will receive the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.
The Nobel season continues this week with the announcement of the winners of the Physics Prize on Tuesday and the Chemistry Prize on Wednesday. They will be followed by the much-anticipated prizes for Literature on Thursday and Peace on Friday.
The Economics Prize winds things up on Monday, October 10. (AFP/Reuters)