Scientific Breakthroughs of Year 2014 Scientific Breakthroughs of Year 2014 – SOMETHING ABOUT SCIENCE

Scientific Breakthroughs of Year 2014

It’s that time of the season when we reflect on the passing of another year and revisit the year’s major events. In this week’s issue, Science looks back at some of the greatest research findings of the year 2014.

At the top of the list came the Comet rendezvous. The international collaboration led by the European Space Agency successfully landed a probe, Philae lander, on a comet known as 67P or Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The triumph became an international sensation, as NASA and the European Space Agency had earlier categorized this comet-landing mission as “ridiculously difficult.” This space mission rewrote our history twice: a probe’s orbit around a comet for the first time in August and then its touchdown in November. The data collected by the probe, as well as by Rosetta spacecraft that continues to follow and orbit the comet, could tell us about the formation of the Solar System and how Earth came to possess water.

Welcome_to_a_comet

Rosetta’s lander Philae is safely on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Photo credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

Other candidates of the breakthrough are as fascinating as the comet landing, and I’m sure the staff at Science had hard time choosing the top. The nine runners-up are as follows:

  • The birth of birds
  • Young blood fixes old
  • Robots that cooperate
  • Chips that mimic the brain
  • Europe’s cave art has a rival
  • Cells that might cure diabetes
  • Manipulating memories
  • Rise of the CubeSat
  • Giving life a bigger genetic alphabet

The Breakthrough of the year series has been a tradition since 1996, according to Science. This year, in addition to staff picks, visitors to their website were invited to vote from 19 candidates selected by the staff. People’s choice differed from staff picks:

  1. Giving life a bigger genetic alphabet
  2. Young blood fixes old
  3. Comet rendezvous

As a biochemist, I’m happy to see that a research on minuscule subjects (bacteria) won people’s favor over a grandeur space experiment that grabbed headlines worldwide. Giving life a bigger genetic alphabet is about a research that successfully incorporated a novel pair of genetic code into living bacteria. In nature, organisms have a genetic blueprint written in four letters (A, T, G, and C) that form two pairs (A-T and G-C) within DNA’s double helix. The genetic letters are read as triplets (or codons) that encode amino acids, or building blocks of protein. This system limits the number of naturally-occuring amino acids that can be encoded by the genetic letters to 20. By introducing artificial genetic letters X and Y, we can drastically expand the genetic code. In simpler terms, imagine you have just added a whole new set of LEGO pieces to your collection; you have now expanded your building repertoire! In a similar way, the research finding could help synthetic biologists and medicine and material engineers to design and create artificial proteins and other molecules.

Don’t have time to read the research breakthroughs of the year? Don’t have subscription to Science? Not to worry. You can watch all 10 research picks here:

Read more on Science‘s Breakthrough of the year 2014, Landing on a comet, here.
Read more on the runners up here.

I hope you all had a wonderful year and wish you an even better one next year. See you in 2015! 🙂

Lynn Kimlicka

I am a scientist-turned writer and editor, who loves to read and write (more than doing experiments). I have a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology, with a specialization in structural biology. My interests range widely, from life sciences to pop culture and arts to music. I am bilingual in English and Japanese.

1 Response

  1. April 20, 2015

    […] stem-cell-based treatment for diabetes ranked within top 8 Notable Advances by Nature Medicine and top 10 Breakthroughs of the Year by Science for […]

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