Dr. Peggy A. Hamburg, Co-President of the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), participated in the STS forum held in Kyoto, Japan, from 1 to 3 October 2023. The event included the Koji Omi Memorial Lecture, chaired by Dr. Svante Pääbo, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The session provided insights into the advancements in human genomics and the understanding of ancient DNA.
The Koji Omi Memorial Lecture, dedicated to honoring the legacy of the late Mr. Koji Omi, commenced with opening remarks from Dr. Hamburg, who introduced Dr. Pääbo's distinguished career in human genomics. His keynote lecture delved into the origin of modern humans, their migration patterns and the methods developed to extract DNA from ancient remains.
The Swedish geneticist and Nobel Laureate gave a presentation which highlighted the retrieval of Neandertal DNA and the identification of Denisovans, shedding light on their contributions to the modern human genome. The discussion explored the impact of genetic variations on contemporary issues, such as the human immune response, drug metabolism, and susceptibility to diseases like COVID-19.
During the subsequent discussion, Dr. Hamburg praised Dr. Pääbo's interdisciplinary approach and the development of innovative methods to address fundamental questions about humanity. The conversation touched upon his career trajectory, setbacks in his research, and the role of technological advancements in shaping scientific inquiries. The discussion also touched upon the challenges of identifying genetic functions and the potential applications of genomic tools in recreating extinct species or aiding endangered ones.
In the Q&A session, audience members queried Dr. Pääbo about the Neandertal contribution to DNA, potential drivers of interbreeding and the likelihood of human extinction. The geneticist expressed optimism about scientific advancements in DNA extraction from older and smaller specimens, dismissing concerns about the complete extinction of humans in the foreseeable future.
The STS forum provided a platform for a neutral and informative exchange of ideas, showcasing the collaborative efforts of global experts in advancing our understanding of human evolution and genomics.