Svante Pbo: the harsh childhood of the Nobel prize for medicine of another Nobel’s secret son

Here is my explanation because they are calling me for no reason


In medicine and four decades later it was won by his father, Sune Bergström, who led a double life and two families for years.

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Every Saturday, the biochemistry professor Sune Bergström he says goodbye to his family – wife and son – and leaves the house to go to work. However, the professor did not go to his laboratory at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, but instead visited an apartment in the then not so desirable suburb of Bagarmosen, popularly known as Bagis. They waited for him there every Saturday, Karin Pbo, the Estonian lab technician who was his lover, and the son they had together, Svante.

Bergstrom wore this double life during throughout the child’s childhood and adolescence. Between visit and visit, he still had time to win the 1982 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Now, just four decades later, it has just been received by Svante Pbo, who is not the first son of a previous winner to be awarded the prestigious prize – there are seven precedents – but he is the first secret son to repeat his father’s success.

to Pbo, paleogeneticist 67 years old, was awarded for DNA mapof two prehistoric human species, the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. His father won the prize at almost the same age, 66, for his discoveries about prostaglandins and related substances. The following year he was appointed president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The father-son relationship between the two was strange to say the least. Karin, the mother, came to Sweden from Estonia in 1944 as a war refugee. I worked odd jobs to pay for college while graduating as a chemist. Then it starts working as laboratory assistant in Karolinska and met the professor. An extramarital affair ends in pregnancy.

King Carl Gustaf of Sweden and back
Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf and Sune Bergström from behind at the 1982 Nobel Prize ceremony.AGENCIES

It must have been a period when Bergström was particularly active. Svante and Rurik, his “legitimate” son, were born in 1955. The professor was married Major Gernand since 1943 and lives in the central and elegant district of Stermalm. I used to go to Bagis only on Saturdays. According to Pbo Maj was aware of its existence but the matter was not discussed in either house.

Rurik didn’t realize he had a brother until shortly before Bergström’s death, in 2004. He always believed that his father worked every Saturday. As a kid, Pbo didn’t mind the arrangement. It was what he had always known. In fact, he didn’t realize he was anything special until he was 10 years old, when his school teacher asked the students to say what their parents’ occupations were. Pbo replied that his was a professor. The teacher didn’t comment, but when the lesson was over, he went to talk to him.

“He took me aside and told me to stop lying,” recalled Pbo in a recent radio interview. The reprimand made him realize for the first time social differences this existed between Stermalm, where his answer would not attract attention, and Bagarmosen, where having parents who were professors was a pipe dream. As an adult, the situation begins to bother him, and he even warns Bergström that if he does not reveal the truth to his “other son”, one day he will show up at Stermalm’s house and knock on the door to tell everything himself.

Perhaps as a reaction to so much secrecy, Pbo has never been shy about talking about his private life. Both in the media and in his book Neanderthal man: in search of the lost genomes (2014). In his youth he was an activist of the UFH, the Homosexual Association of Uppsala, the city where he studied at university. It is now defined as bisexual: “I had a lot of relationships with men, but sometimes I also had girlfriends.” In any case, in 2008, attracted by her “youthful charm”, he married the American primatologist and geneticist Linda Vigliantwith whom they have two children.

The recurring question from the press is whether his father is his great source of inspiration. Pbo replies that it is actually his mother, died in 2007 Karin loved the history of Egypt and took Svante there, who was then 13 years old. This trip awakened his fascination with mummies and began the process that led to the discoveries that won him the Nobel Prize.

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