Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences awarded for pioneering studies in paleogenomics

Hoboken, N.J–February 20, 2019–The Wiley Foundation today announced the 18th annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences will be awarded to Svante Pääbo and David Reich for sequencing the genomes of ancient humans and extinct relatives, revealing the origin and ancestry of contemporary humans and our diverse populations.

Svante Pääbo, PhD, is Director at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

David Reich, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and an Associate Member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

“The 2019 Wiley Prize recognizes Drs. Svante Pääbo and David Reich for their pioneering studies of ancient human DNA that revealed the origin and migration of contemporary humans and our relationship to extinct relatives,” said Dr. Titia de Lange, Chairperson of the Awards Jury for the Wiley Prize at The Rockefeller University in New York City.

“The Wiley Foundation honors research that champions novel approaches and challenges accepted thinking in the biomedical sciences. The work of the 2019 Wiley Prize recipients, Svante Pääbo and David Reich, truly upholds this mission,” said Deborah Wiley, Chair of the Wiley Foundation. “We honor them for their pioneering studies of ancient and extant hominid DNA that is detailing the story of human evolution across both time and geography.”

First awarded in 2002, the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences is presented annually to recognize contributions that have opened new fields of research or have advanced concepts in a particular biomedical discipline. Among the many distinguished recipients of the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences, nine have gone on to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and two have gone on to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

This year’s award of $50,000 will be presented to the winners on April 5, 2019 at the Wiley Prize luncheon at The Rockefeller University. The winners will then deliver an honorary lecture as part of The Rockefeller University Lecture Series. This event will be live streamed via the Current Protocols’ Webinar Series and registration is free.


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About the 2019 Prize Winners

Svante Pääbo has developed techniques and approaches that allow DNA sequences from archaeological and paleontological remains to be determined. This has allowed ancient DNA from extinct organisms, humans, animals and pathogens to be studied. His research group has determined high-quality Neandertal genome sequences, allowing for the reconstruction of the recent evolutionary history of our species and the realization that Neandertals contributed DNA to present-day humans who live outside Africa. By studying DNA sequences from a small Siberian bone they discovered Denisovans, a previously unknown hominin group distantly related to Neandertals. Pääbo also works on the comparative and functional genomics of humans and apes, particularly the evolution of genetic features that may underlie aspects of traits specific to humans.

David Reich focuses on realizing the potential of ancient DNA to shed light on biology, and his work has established the central role of population mixture in our species. He led the analyses of the Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes proving interbreeding between archaic and modern humans. By implementing a series of technical improvements, his lab has produced more than half of the world’s published ancient genomes. His team’s analyses have highlighted the power of ancient DNA to reveal previously unknown events, for example showing that “whites” are a mixture of four groups as different as Europeans and East Asians; that Europe and South Asia were both impacted by massive migration from the Eurasian Steppe after 5,000 years ago; and that there were equally large population turnovers in East Asia, the Americas and Africa. He also works on using ancient DNA to track how biological traits evolved in the last 50,000 years, and on making ancient DNA technology accessible to all scholars interested in using it.

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