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Lesbian, Bisexual Scientists Receive Nobel Prizes

Svante Pääbo and Carolyn Bertozzi
From left: Svante Paabo and Carolyn Bertozzi

Prizes were presented to American lesbian chemist Carolyn Bertozzi and bi Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo at a ceremony Saturday in Stockholm.

The Nobel laureates accepting their prizes at the ceremony in Stockholm this weekend included two LGBTQ+ winners.

Carolyn Bertozzi, a lesbian who's a chemistry professor at Stanford University in California, shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry with Morten Meldal, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, and Scripps Research professor and 1968 Stanford alum K. Barry Sharpless. Their prize was for "the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry," the Nobel organization announced in October.

Geneticist Svante Paabo, a bisexual Swedish man now working in Germany, received the prize in physiology or medicine "for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution," according to the organization.

"Chemists are dreamers. We think up new molecules and bring them to life," Bertozzi said at the Saturday ceremony, United Press International reports.

In an interview with The Bay Area Reporter in October, she said she thought at first that she was hallucinating when she heard about the award. "I was like, Oh, my God, this cannot be happening," she said.

She also told the publication that the prize offers her the "opportunity to cast the light on all the wonderful things that chemists bring to the world."

Bertozzi's research group "profiles changes in cell surface glycosylation associated with cancer, inflammation and bacterial infection, and uses this information to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, most recently in the area of immuno-oncology," the Stanford website explains.

Paabo "pioneered the now-booming field of ancient DNA research," Science magazine notes. His work in sequencing the DNA of early beings "has offered insights into the genetic evolution of modern humans, including a better understanding of disease risks," according to the magazine. He has been a director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, since 1997. He wrote about his bisexuality in a memoir, Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, in 2014.

In an October email to the Reporter, he also expressed a bit of disbelief about the prize. "This can't be true," Paabo wrote. "I have not really digested it yet."

There are fewer than a dozen known LGBTQ+ Nobel laureates, according to the Reporter. Last year, Filipina-American lesbian journalist Maria Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy for freedom of expression in the Philippines, a shared prize with Dmitry Muratov for his similar work in Russia. His publication, Novaya Gazeta, was the first to report on the anti-LGBTQ+ persecution in the Russian region of Chechnya.

The Stockholm ceremony "returned to its pre-pandemic glamour" this year after having been downsized in 2021 and 2022, UPI notes, with appearances by the Swedish royal family and dignitaries from around the world, gourmet food, and a performance by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Peace Prize was presented at a ceremony in Oslo, also held Saturday. It was shared by human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus and two human rights groups, Memorial, based in Russia, and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties. At the event, Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Center for Civil Liberties denounced Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, for the invasion of Ukraine, according to UPI. Bialiatski, who is imprisoned in Belarus, sent remarks delivered by his wife, Natallia Pinchuk, condemning the oppression of human rights activists there by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

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