Medicine to Peace: These are the Nobel Prize winners in 2022

Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo, who won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries that underpin our understanding of how modern day humans evolved from extinct ancestors.

Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo, who won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Image: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Douglas Broom
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  • The Nobel Prize announcements are taking place between October 3-10; There are six prizes in total, including prizes for Literature and Peace.
  • Swedish geneticist Professor Svante Pääbo won the first prize - the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2022.
  • The Nobel physics prize goes to sleuths of 'spooky' quantum science.

How far back does your family tree reach? The winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine just added a few thousand years.

Swedish geneticist Professor Svante Pääbo discovered the genetic identity of two of humankind’s earliest ancestors, opening a new window on human evolution in the process.

He was the first winner of this year's six Nobel Prizes that are being announced between 3 and 10 October. Here's what you need to know about his discovery - and the recipients of the other Nobel Prizes 2022, including the prizes for Literature and Peace.

Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine

Prof Pääbo, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, achieved what many scientists believed to be impossible when, in 2010, he sequenced the genome of the Neanderthal, an extinct relative of present-day humans.

He went on to discover a previously unknown branch of the human family tree by extracting DNA from a 40,000-year-old finger bone found in a cave in Siberia. The new hominid was named Denisova after the location in which the bone was discovered.

A graphic showing how Professor Pääbo used DNA from bone fragments to chart human evolution.
Family tree: Professor Pääbo used DNA from bone fragments to chart human evolution. Image: Nobel Foundation

Announcing the award, Professor Nils-Göran Larsson, Chair of the Nobel Committee, said: “His discoveries help us to understand homo sapiens, present-day humans. This is a very fundamental, big discovery.

“On average, you and I have one to two per cent Neanderthal DNA… [they] are our closest extinct relatives that now have been defined at the genome level. Over the years to come, this will give huge insights into human physiology.”

Neanderthal people became extinct in Europe 30,000 years ago, only a few millennia after the appearance of modern humans. This prompted scientists to speculate that their disappearance may have been due to conflict with homo sapiens.

Have you read?
A graphic showing the evolution of humans from Denisovans to Neanderthals to modern humans.
Professor Svante Pääbo’s Nobel Prize winning research helps explain what makes us uniquely human. Image: Nobel Foundation

Winning Nobel Prizes in the Physiology and Medicine category is something of a family tradition for Professor Pääbo - his father, biochemist Sune Bergström, won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1982. It's the ninth time that a child of a Nobel laureate has also won a prize.

Nobel Prize in Physics

Scientists Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics for experiments in quantum mechanics that laid the groundwork for rapidly-developing new applications in computing and cryptography.

"Their results have cleared the way for new technology based upon quantum information," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said of the laureates: Aspect, who is French, Clauser, an American and Zeilinger, an Austrian.

The scientists all conducted experiments into quantum entanglement, where two particles are linked regardless of the space between them, a field that unsettled Albert Einstein himself, who once referred to it in a letter as "spooky action at a distance".

"I'm very happy... I first started this work back in 1969, and I'm happy to still be alive to be able to get the prize," Clauser, 79, told Reuters by phone from his home in Walnut Creek, California.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and Barry Sharpless have won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry 'for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry.'

Past chemistry winners include well-known scientific names such as Marie Curie, who also shared the physics prize with her husband and whose eldest daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, won the chemistry award just over two decades after her mother.

“This year’s Prize in Chemistry deals with not overcomplicating matters, instead working with what is easy and simple. Functional molecules can be built even by taking a straightforward route,” says Johan Åqvist, Chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

The award is Sharpless's second Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


Nobel Prize in Literature

French author Annie Ernaux has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2022. She's been recognized "for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory."

Ernaux's work is mainly autobiographical.

View of the French author's book as Annie Ernaux wins 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature in Borshuset in Stockholm, Sweden, October 6, 2022. TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN
Annie Ernaux wins 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature. Image: VIA REUTERS

Nobel Peace Prize

The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organization Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties.

The laureates represent civil society in their countries. The Nobel Peace Prize website explains that the recipients "have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens ... together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy."

Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Nobel Committee, announces the winner of this year's peace prize laureate at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway October 7, 2022. The winners Nobel Peace Price are human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organisation Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties.  NTB/Heiko Junge via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NORWAY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN NORWAY.
The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize has been announced in Oslo. Image: via REUTERS

The Prize in Economic Sciences 2022

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2022 has been awarded to Ben Bernanke, Douglas Diamond and Philip Dybvig "for research on banks and financial crises."

The Nobel Prize explained that their work has "significantly improved our understanding of the role of banks in the economy, particular during financial crises."

Their analyses have delivered vital practical applications in regulating financial markets and managing financial crises, the Nobel Prize press release explains. For example, all three economists' work has contributed to our understanding of bank runs, the implications for financial systems and how policymakers can respond.

“The laureates’ insights have improved our ability to avoid both serious crises and expensive bailouts,” says Tore Ellingsen, chair of the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences.

The Nobel Prize winning economists have contributed to our understanding of bank runs.
The Nobel Prize winning economists have contributed to our understanding of bank runs. Image: © Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Notable Nobel Laureates

The Prizes were first awarded in 1901 by The Nobel Foundation, a private institution established in 1900, to carry out the wishes of Swedish chemist, engineer and industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died in 1896.

He left the bulk of his fortune in trust to establish the international awards that bear his name. To date, Nobel Prizes have been awarded 609 times to 975 people and organizations, or 943 individuals and 25 organizations if you count those who have won twice.

Undoubtedly all Nobel Prize winners deserve to be famous but here are some of the best known:

  • Marie Curie (Physics 1903, Chemistry 1911) for her work on radioactivity (1903) and for discovering radium and polonium (1911).
  • Albert Einstein (Physics 1921) “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”.
  • International Committee of the Red Cross (Peace 1917, 1944, 1963).
  • Sir Alexander Fleming (Physiology or Medicine 1945) for discovering penicillin the foundation for the development of all modern antibiotics.
  • James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins (Physiology or Medicine, 1962) for discovering the helix structure of DNA. The award caused controversy because it overlooked the contribution of Rosalind Franklin whose research was vital to their discovery. In 2019 Watson was stripped of the prize over comments he made about race.
  • Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. (Peace, 1964) awarded for his work on civil rights in the United States. At the time he was aged 35, the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. He gave the $54,123 to the civil rights movement but was assassinated in 1968, just four years after receiving the award.
  • Gabriel García Márquez (Literature, 1982) for "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts".
  • Mikhail Gorbachev (Peace 1990) for his role in bringing the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West to a peaceful conclusion.
  • Nelson Mandela (Peace, 1993), South Africa’s first Black president who brought about an end to apartheid and shared his prize with the country’s last white president F.W. De Klerk who handed over power peacefully.
  • Former US President Jimmy Carter (Peace, 2002) “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development”.
  • Malala Yousafzai (Peace, 2014) an educational campaigner and the youngest ever Nobel Laureate who won the prize after being shot and severely wounded by a Taliban gunman for defying their ban on female education. She now heads the Malala fund that campaigns for female education rights worldwide.
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