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. He determined a high-quality Neandertal genome sequence, 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 he discovered Denisovans, a previously unknown hominin group distantly related to Neandertals. He also works on the comparative and functional genomics of humans and apes, particularly the evolution of genetic features such as the FOXP2 ‘speech and language’ gene that may underlie aspects of traits specific to humans.
Svante Pääbo has received several honorary doctorates and scientific prizes and is a member of numerous academies. He is currently a Director at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.