10 main scientific achievements of the decade


10 main scientific achievements of the decade

Science and technology are developing rapidly today. It is easy to forget that a few years ago we did not know about many facts that are generally known today. Over the past scientific decade, there have been many discoveries in physics, biology and astronomy. Of course, we will be able to fully appreciate their importance only after several decades. However, many consequences are already visible today.

Here are some of the most notorious scientific advances of the past decade.

2010: the first scientific synthetic „life“

At the beginning of the decade, scientists were able to blur the line between man-made and created by nature – they created the first organism with a synthetic genome.

Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute assembled the genome of the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides from over a million DNA base pairs. Then the artificially created genome was planted with another bacteria – Mycoplasma capricolum – which was previously stripped of DNA. Soon, the viscera of M. capricolum began to use the instructions of the synthetic genome, reproducing like M. mycoides would.

Over the years, scientists have made progress in their research. In 2016, the smallest synthetic microbe, with only 473 genes, was “harvested”. In 2017, researchers announced the creation of five synthetic yeast chromosomes. Their ultimate goal is to replace all 16 yeast chromosomes with synthetic analogs that can be manipulated to perform specific tasks. For example, for mass production of antibiotics or growing meat.

2011: HIV therapy

Today, many people at high risk of contracting HIV simply take a pill every day that greatly reduces their risk. This drug was approved only in 2012. And a huge study published in 2011 prompted this decision.

Science magazine called the study „Breakthrough of the Year.“ Deservedly. For the first time since 1994, a new way has been found to prevent person-to-person transmission of HIV. (In 1994, scientists found a pharmaceutical that prevents HIV transmission from an infected mother to an embryo.)

The research began in 2005. The results published in 2011 were only interim, but played a role. Scientists have reported a 96% reduction in HIV transmission. The study lasted 10 years. Its results were published in 2016 in The New England Journal of Medicine. The drug showed a 93% reduction in HIV transmission.

2012: Higgs boson

In July 2012, scientists working with the largest particle accelerator on the planet announced the discovery of the last particle predicted by the Standard Model of physics. The Higgs boson was found.

This particle is associated with the Higgs field – the energy field that explains the mass in particles. The particles gain mass as they travel through this three-dimensional field and provoke the smallest disturbances. The stronger the interaction, the greater the mass. When a field experiences a strong increase in energy at a particular point, it emits a Higgs boson. In 2013, physicists confirmed that a year earlier they had indeed spotted an elusive particle.

The discovery of the particle has led to new questions. The particle turned out to be slightly lighter than predicted. That is, either an error in the calculations, or there are several types of the Higgs boson. There may be a heavier version of the boson that we haven’t found yet. This is the search that the LHC is doing today.

2013: Voyager-1

scientificAfter almost 35 years of flying past planets and satellites, Voyager 1 finally left our system. This happened in August 2012. Scientists confirmed the event in 2013.

The station left Earth in 1977. The next ten years were spent exploring Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their moons. In 2013, the device transmitted to us data, which traced significant changes in the electron density around Voyager 1. This was the main indication that the device flew outside the solar system.

According to experts, Voyager 1 will continue to send us information until 2025. And then he will be silent forever. Perhaps someday some alien life forms will stumble upon him. Having opened the device, they will see a gold plate and a capsule with photographs of people, a map of the solar system and other clues about the existence of civilization on Earth.

2014: Gravitational waves

scientificUntil 2014, scientists had only circumstantial evidence of the Big Bang – the theory of the origin of our universe, which explains the extremely rapid expansion of space that occurred 13.8 billion years ago. In 2014, scientists saw direct evidence of this expansion for the first time.

The proof was gravitational waves – literal ripples of space-time, preserved from the first split second after the Big Bang. These waves provoked changes in the polarization of the CMB. Changes in polarization are called B-modes. These B-modes were detected by scientists using the BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica.

Since then, gravitational waves continue to reveal the secrets of the universe to us. In particular, we learned about the dynamics of black hole collisions and neutron star collisions. Perhaps gravitational waves will even help scientists finally determine exactly how fast the universe is expanding.

2015: First CRISPR editing of scientific human embryos

And in the field of medicine, the main breakthrough of the decade was probably the appearance of the CRISPR gene editing technology. The technology was born out of studying the defense mechanisms of certain bacteria. The sets of repetitive sequences of genes associated with the Cas9 enzyme act as molecular scissors.

With this technology, scientists can easily erase parts of the DNA of living things and insert other sequences. This method can help heal genetic diseases. Or maybe even create custom babies.

The first step in using the technology was taken in 2015. Scientists from the Chinese University. Sun Yat-sen was the first to genetically modify human embryos. The embryos did not survive, and the experiment was only partially successful. But he pushed the scientific community to discuss the ethical side of such experiments. The discussion continues to this day.

2016: Exoplanets in the habitable zone

Astronomers found the closest planet to us in 2016. She found herself at a distance of 4.2 light years from us, in the potentially habitable zone of her star.

This does not mean that there are actually living organisms on Proxima b. The „habitable zone“ refers to the ring of space around a star where the temperature is high enough and low enough for the planet to have liquid water.

Over the years, scientists have detected flashes of strong radiation from the star, which significantly reduces the chances of life on this planet, but at the same time they have found many other potentially habitable exoplanets.

2017: Oldest H. sapiens fossil pushes our species back by 100,000 years

How many millennia have representatives of Homo sapiens roamed the planet? In 2017, we learned that it is at least 300,000 years old. This is 100,000 years longer than previously thought. In a cave in Morocco in northern Africa, scientists have found 300,000-year-old bones from at least five individuals. Before that, the oldest bones of H. sapiens were from eastern Africa. It was believed that our species appeared in the east, and then scattered across the continent. Now there are hypotheses that H. sapiens appeared simultaneously across the continent.

2018: The first surviving CRISPR children

Just three years after the first genetic modification of human embryos, a new step was taken – edited children were born. A year ago, a Chinese scientist reported the birth of twin girls whose genomes were altered using CRISPR.

He edited the CCR5 gene, which, in theory, should reduce the risk of HIV infection. Judging by the data published later, he provoked an unknown mutation instead of achieving a known one. It is unknown how this will affect the girls. The world community of scientists was so shocked by the news that discussions of what happened are still flickering in the news feeds. You just have to wait. The scientist himself, by the way, disappeared.

2019: The first scientific snapshot of the vicinity of the black hole

We know that black holes exist because light is unable to overcome their attraction, but this same feature makes these scientific  objects invisible. Until this year.

For the first time, scientists have taken a picture of the vicinity of a black hole. The star of the image is a black hole in the center of the galaxy Messier 87. The diameter of this hole is comparable to the diameter of our solar system.

In the image we see a luminous bagel of matter in the vicinity of the event horizon. Now the same team is working on creating a video of the black hole.

Look for more materials on the scientific results of the year and decade on the channel.