UCSC engineer played crucial role in 2022 Nobel Prize-winning research

Biomolecular engineering’s Richard (Ed) Green collaborated with medalist Svante Pääbo’s research on the Neanderthal genome

Watch Ed Green describe his work in sequencing the Neanderthal genome and what this means for the history of early modern humans.

Ed Green holds replicas of the bones from which Neanderthal DNA was extracted for genome sequencing and a Neanderthal skull. (Photo by Jim MacKenzie)

The 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo for his research on human evolution, specifically in using contemporary tools to sequence and compare the genomes of Neanderthals and Denisovans to modern day humans. The research revealed mixing between the earliest modern humans and Neanderthals. 

UC Santa Cruz Baskin School of Engineering Professor Richard (Ed) Green was a major contributor to the Neanderthal Genome Project as the co-author of four of the six "key publications," and first author on two, cited in the Nobel announcement

“I couldn't be happier about this award for Svante,” Green said. “It's such well-deserved recognition for the importance of the field and for the impact of having genomes from our closest extinct relatives.”

Green began working on the Neanderthal genome as a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where Pääbo led the international consortium of researchers working on the Neanderthal Genome Project and still serves as the institute’s director. After developing special methods to extract ancient DNA from the 40,000-year-old bones of Neanderthals, the group sequenced that DNA and was able to make key discoveries about the origins of our species. 

Green led major bioinformatics efforts behind this project, writing software and developing computational techniques needed to analyze ancient DNA extracted from fossil bones. He also helped coordinate the design and logistics of the project.

This work showed that shortly after early modern humans migrated out of Africa, some interbred with Neanderthals, as evidenced by pieces of Neanderthal DNA found throughout the genomes of all non-Africans. 

"The Neanderthal genome is a goldmine of information about recent human evolution, and it will be put to use for years to come," Green said at the time of the findings in 2010.