The ability to decipher DNA is a gateway into an entire microscopic world of genetic information and has led to revolutionary scientific discoveries about the human species. Further, studying DNA from the past can provide valuable insight into how humans have evolved over time.
For a long time, scientists have attempted to study the DNA from ancient human fossils. The problem, however, has been finding a way to study ancient fossils without the contamination of modern human DNA.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Svante Pääbo developed the DNA sequencing technology that enables scientists to study DNA free from contamination. This past Monday, October 3, 2022, Pääbo was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discoveries, which have not only enabled in-depth evolutionary research but also paved the way for modern health and medicine.
Here is more about Dr. Pääbo’s remarkable feat as well as the implications for health and medicine, now and in the future.
About the Nobel-Prize-Winning Technology
Early in his career, Swedish scientist Svante Pääbo attempted to extract genetic material from mummies but found that the samples became contaminated by the DNA of his own colleagues. So, he worked on developing a way to preserve the purity of the samples using bioinformatic and chemical methods and study them in a cleanroom, where no human debris can interfere.
In 2006, Dr. Pääbo launched an effort to do what seemed impossible: retrieve genetic material from 40,000-year-old fossils. Thanks to the new technology, he did so with success and made significant discoveries, including finding evidence that modern humans and neanderthals shared a common ancestor. This breakthrough opened the door for more innovative research, including the study of microbial DNA.
The Impact on Health and Medicine
Not only does this DNA sequencing technology provide valuable insight into the human species, but it also enables the examination of microbial DNA without contamination from human DNA. Scientists are able to study microorganisms and bacteria that lead to infections and disease and even see how they evolve over time. This is the same type of technology, for instance, that is used to research variants of the coronavirus.
Biotia is one of the early adopters of this sequencing technology and is leveraging it to develop the world’s leading microbial sequence database. Biotia focuses on finding rare molecules that lead to infection and disease to allow for more precise diagnosis and treatment.
The Future of DNA Sequencing
DNA sequencing technology will only continue to increase in significance. As Dr. Chris Mason, PhD, puts it, “Humans continue to evolve. All of life is continuing to evolve. The processing of sequencing analysis will continue as long as life exists anywhere. These methods are the bedrock of our understanding.”
In an everchanging environment with continually evolving life, we need to keep up with the genetic information that DNA can provide, whether about humans or infectious disease. This DNA sequencing technology enables researchers to do just that.
This is an exciting time, as the sequencing analysis methods are moving from the research space into clinical spaces to allow for better diagnostics and treatments. Thanks to Svante Pääbo, the future is bright for medical research, and healthcare will continue to improve as a result. We are proud to celebrate the accomplishment of such a remarkable scientist and the opportunity to incorporate his methods in Biotia’s labs.
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