Friday, August 12, 2011

Svante Pääbo New Yorker profile

Very nice profile of Svante Pääbo in the New Yorker. (Subscription only.)

Pääbo's father was a Nobel laureate and I think the son has a good shot as well. What impresses me most is his creativity and willingness to take on difficult projects. Video of a 2008 lecture by Pääbo.

New Yorker: ... Svante Pääbo heads the evolutionary genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany. At any given moment, he has at least half a dozen research efforts in progress, all attempting to solve the question of what defines us as human. Pääbo’s most ambitious project to date, which he has assembled an international consortium to assist him with, is an attempt to sequence the entire genome of the Neanderthal. The project is about halfway complete and has already yielded some unsettling results, including the news that modern humans, before doing in the Neanderthals, must have interbred with them. Once the Neanderthal genome is complete, scientists will be able to lay it gene by gene against the human genome, and see where they diverge. “I want to know what changed in fully modern humans, compared with Neanderthals, that made a difference,” Pääbo said. “What made it possible for us to build up these enormous societies, and spread around the globe.” Pääbo, who is now fifty-six, grew up in Stockholm, the product of a love affair between his mother and a married biochemist named Sune Bergström. From an early age, he was interested in old things. In the early nineteen-eighties, he was doing doctoral research on viruses when he began fantasizing about mummies. His paper on mummy DNA became the cover article in Nature magazine. Pääbo moved to the University of California at Berkeley and, later, became a professor at the University of Munich. The first Neanderthal was found in a limestone cave about forty-five miles north of Bonn, in an area known as the Neander Valley. Describes the history of Neanderthal research. Mentions 454 Life Sciences. Toward the end of 2006, Pääbo and his team reported that they had succeeded in sequencing a million base pairs of the Neanderthal genome. But later analysis revealed that the million base pairs had probably been contaminated by human DNA. Pääbo’s research eventually showed that before modern humans “replaced” the Neanderthals, they had sex with them. The liaisons produced children, who helped to people Europe, Asia, and the New World. All non-Africans carry somewhere between one and four per cent Neanderthal DNA. From the archeological records, it’s inferred that Neanderthals evolved in Europe or Western Asia and spread out from there, stopping when they reached water or some other significant obstacle. This is one of the most basic ways modern humans differ from Neanderthals and, in Pääbo’s view, also one of the most intriguing. If the defining characteristic of modern humans is a sort of Faustian restlessness, or “madness,” then, by Pääbo’s account, there must be some sort of Faustian gene.


5371 said...

If the defining characteristic of modern humans is a sort of Faustian restlessness, or “madness,” then, by Pääbo’s account, there must be some sort of Faustian gene.Yes! And I look forward to his finding the world-conqueror gene that Alexander, Temujin and Bonaparte must have shared.

svedlin said...

Interesting... A related theory concerning contemporary migrations:

"Peter C. Whybrow of U.C.L.A. and John D. Gartner of Johns Hopkins
University Medical School make their cases for an immigrant-specific
genotype in their respective books, "American Mania" and "The Hypomanic
Edge." Even when times are hard, Whybrow points out, most people don't
leave their homelands. The 2 percent or so who do are a self-selecting
group. What distinguishes them, he suggests, might be the genetic makeup
of their dopamine-receptor system - the pathway in the brain that
figures centrally in boldness and novelty seeking."

MtMoru said...

"I think the son has a good shot as well"
Does his work really fit Physiology or Medicine?

MtMoru said...

Stig Tøfting is living proof of Paabo's assertion.

Carson Chow said...

Paabo is a genius but like so many brilliant mathematicians and astronomers, he falls between the eligible categories for a Nobel.

Maciano Van der Laan said...

Tofting was a great player, I remember he almost played for Ajax -- back when that still meant something..

steve hsu said...

It would be a break from tradition, but I can imagine him winning a prize in Physiology or Medicine.

JLOV said...

Chemistry prize seems more likely.

MtMoru said...

Totally retarded. A general rule: those who use the phrase "American exceptionalism" and those who believe there is such a thing are morons.

What about the the rest of the Western Hemisphere, ANZ, and southern Africa? The explanation is totally lame.

svedlin said...

To quote the researcher:

"A small empirical literature suggests that there are elevated
rates of manic-depressive disorder among immigrants, regardless
of what country they are moving from or to.17 America, a nation
of immigrants, has higher rates of mania than every other
country studied (with the possible exception of New Zealand,
which topped the United States in one study). In fact, the
top three countries with the most manics—America, New
Zealand, and Canada—are all nations of immigrants.

countries such as Taiwan and South Korea, which have absorbed
very few immigrants, have the lowest rates of bipolar disorder.
Europe is in the middle, in both its rate of immigrant absorption
and its rate of mania.18 As expected, the percentage of immigrants
in a population correlates with the percentage of manics in
their gene pool."

steve hsu said...

I actually posted on this -- do a search and you'll find several things on hypomania, entrepreneurism, etc. on the blog.

botti said...

Heh, I remember Kevin Roberts the Saatchi & Saatchi CEO said he thought New Zealander's were good entrepeneurs because of the types of people prepared to travel that far 100 or so years ago from the UK.

MtMoru said...

The rate of any psychiatric disorder depends much more on the per capita number of psychiatrists. Further, psychiatric disorders are culture-bound.

"Rates" of ADD and autism have increased by 10 fold since the 80s.

Scientologists are morons but they are right that psychiatry is a pseudoscience. Psychiatrists are not even involved in the development of psychiatric drugs. They don't have the competenece. And contrary to very well cultivated popular opinion psychiatric drugs are usually totally ineffective and have horrible side effects. Also contrary to very well cultivated popular opinion psychiatric disorders are not very heritable.

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