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Mummies, Neanderthals, and Nobel winner Svante Pääbo

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The child of a single mother grows up dreaming about mummies. Mom’s a chemist. One day, the boy imagines, he’ll be like Indiana Jones. Then the day comes. He takes Egyptology courses only to find he’s spending more time studying Egyptian grammar than Egyptian pyramids. So he pivots to medicine. And that’s just the beginning. The man who once dreamed of becoming an archaeologist goes on to launch the field of paleogenetics—the study of ancient genetic material.

That man is Svante Pääbo, the Swedish scientist best known for sequencing the Neanderthal genome. Last year, Pääbo’s discoveries earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. This year, he appeared at a Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Association meeting for an intimate discussion with Jan Witowski, former director of CSHL’s Banbury Center think tank.

This isn’t just any science talk. In addition to walking us through his groundbreaking discoveries, Pääbo shares personal details of his upbringing. He even touches on the politics of science during the later years of the Cold War. And yes, Neanderthals too.

To date, Pääbo has participated in 45 CSHL Meetings & Courses Program events. As he says, “I’ve never worked at Cold Spring Harbor, but it still feels a bit like home because I come here so regularly. It is a sort of mecca.”

Here, we are proud to present Nobel laureate Svante Pääbo in a candid discussion with CSHL Special Advisor Jan Witowski. Press play for your front-row seat.