2013 – What Happened and What Did we Learn?

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How was 2013 for you? It’s been a bit up-and-down for me for reasons explained in a couple of previous posts, but as of right now, it’s all good :-).  It’s also been a pretty good year for science, as exciting developments come in from all angles. I’ve pulled out two choice pieces from each month with a little summary and a link for your perusal if the story takes your fancy.

It’s an unavoidable truth that other things happen on this planet aside from science so in the interests of balance (and for the balance of interests) I’ve also included another story for each month in the form of “World News”.  I hope I’ve represented these accurately as I’ve had to take significant remedial action against my own ignorance on many of these issues. 

Here we go…

January

Science 1: Nature’s prime data storage device, DNA, is used to encode an information time capsule including the Sonnets of Shakespeare and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. The stability of the molecule means the information is expected to be readable for 10,000 years. (link)

Science 2: A real life “tractor beam” is developed which can pull, rotate and sort microscopic objects using polarised light.  (link)

World News: First reporting of horse and pork DNA found in beefburgers across Britain and Ireland, raising many concerns about regulations within the meat industry. (link)

 

February

That’s no contrail….

Science 1: The identity of a skeleton found under a car park in Leicester is confirmed as King Richard III using evidence from mitochondrial DNA testing, carbon dating and historical accounts. (link)

Science 2: Exciting and potentially lucrative graphene technology advances as physicists show that atom-thick grapheme is 100 times more reactive than the thicker sort. (link)

World News: Massive meteoroid falls over Russia. The high prevalence of dashboard cameras in Russia (for insurance reasons) had the unexpected perk of capturing stunning footage of the speeding rock. Shockwaves from the meteoroid caused injury to 950 people. (link)

 

March

Science 1: CERN announces the new particle found at the LHC is “looking more and more like a Higgs boson” after analysing significantly more data than was available at the July 2012 announcement (link)

Science 2: A large proportion of a patient’s skull is replaced with a custom-made 3D-printed implant for the first time (link)

World News: Pope Francis is deemed new head of the Catholic Church to replace the resigned Pope Benedict XVI. He later later beat Miley Cyrus in becoming TIME’s Person of the Year 2013. (link)

 

April

Science 1: Scientists at Exeter announce their success in modifying E. coli bacteria to convert sugars into biofuel. They aim to scale up production for use in cars in the next ten years. (link)

Science 2: French scientists determine that the Earth’s core is actually 1000oC hotter than thought previously. (link)

World News:  Tensions between North Korea and South Korea (and the rest of the world) run especially high as Kim Jong-Un continues to attempt to assert himself as a global power. (link)

 

May

Science 1: A new species called the pirate ant is announced. It’s named after the dark stripe across the eye resembling a pirate’s eye patch and is just one of many hundreds of new species identified over the course of 2013. (link)

Science 2: Patient-specific human embryonic stem cells have been created by cloning adult cells for the first time. These special cells have the ability to become almost any human cell type, such as skin cells for burn victims, white blood cells for the immunocompromised or insulin-producing cells for diabetics. (link)

World News:  Soldier Lee Rigby is murdered in the streets of Woolwich – the perpetrators openly speak to camera about what happened directly after the attack took place. (link)

 

June

Science 1: Opthalmologist Professor Harminder Dua discovered a new part of the human body – a distinct and tough layer of the cornea (the transparent front part of the eye). Understanding the role of Dua’s layer could greatly improve treatments to diseases of the cornea. (link)

Science 2: A star 22 light years from Earth has been shown to harbour a record-breaking three exoplanets in a region just the right temperature for liquid water, making them ideal candidates for alien lifeforms. Their masses are all between that of Earth and Neptune, but little else is known about them at this stage. (link)

World News: Leaked documents from the NSA reveal a program called Prism which allows the US government direct access to metadata (and data itself) from companies including Microsoft, Google and Apple. Later in the month CIA employee Edward Snowden comes forward as the whistleblower at great personal risk. The second half of the year has been littered with more leaks revealing the extent of the NSA’s privacy invasion to US and foreign citizens. (link)

 

July

Science 1: With the help of a public vote, the fourth and fifth moons of Pluto were officially named Styx and Kerberos after the river and three headed dog of the ancient Greek underworld (link)

Science 2: Gene therapy (replacing DNA which causes genetic diseases with healthy versions) was used to save infants of a rare genetic disorder which would most likely have killed them in the first few years of their life without intervention (link)

World News: Same-sex marriage is legalised in the UK and Wales, with the first ceremony expected to take place around March 2014. (link).

 

August

The stem cell burger itself

Science 1: A new mammal species is announced. The olinguito is an adorable omnivore not too distantly related to the raccoon. An olinguito was actually kept in captivity in the 1970s but it was assumed to be just a particularly small olinguo that wouldn’t breed. DNA and morphological evidence was used to show it was actually a distinct species (link).

Science 2:  Burgers made in a lab from cow stem cells were eaten by food critics at an event in London. The review was generally positive, and could become a low-cost, low-carbon, no-slaughter meat product of the near future (link)

World News:  Egypt declares a one month state of emergency in the violent aftermath of president Mohamed Morsi’s deposition by the country’s military – itself the result of 10 million Egyptians protesting against Morsi. (link)

 

September

Science 1: Hydrogen bonds are directly visualised for the first time (link)

Science 2: A functioning computer is built entirely out of carbon nanotubes, which may one day replace the silicon transistors which have been used since the 1950s (link)

World News:  Syrian government acknowledges its stockpiles of chemical weapons following a horrific sarin gas attack on a Damascus suburb in August, and applies to join the Chemical Weapons Convention with a view to eradicating the weapons. As of now only four states in the world remain unsigned (link)

 

October

Science 1: A study concludes that research budget spent on understanding the aging process would benefit public health more than the same amount poured into studying cancer and heart disease (link)

Science 2:  Ultimate daredevilry and technology combine as Felix Baumgartner jumps from the stratosophere, breaking the sound barrier on the 10-minute journey way down (link).

World News: The US government shuts down for 16 days after Congress failed to pass the Federal budget for the year ahead due to disagreements about clauses involving Obamacare (link)

 

November

Science 1:  Findings of a 3.48 billion year old “microbial mat” may be the oldest fossils ever found, revealing information about the evolution of very early life (link)

Science 2: 650,000 high-resolution satellite images were analysed to reveal a net loss of forests of (1.5 million km2) during the years 2000-2012. That’s the size of the British Isles, France and Spain combined (link)

World News: Price of virtual currency Bitcoin hit $1000 for the first time, up from just $200 per coin at the end of October  (link)

 

December

Science 1: NASA’s Curiosity has found that the area in which it landed was actually a large freshwater lake 3.5 billion years ago, just as life was first dawning on our own planet. Mars may once have been a planet rich in liquid water, perhaps even with primitive life forms of its own (link)

Science 2: Mitochondrial DNA from a 400,000 year old human-like thigh bone was successfully sequenced to provide some surprising results. The bone morphology resembled that of Neanderthals, but the DNA more closely matched that of another ancient group called the Denisovans – further complicating our muddled old family tree (link)

World News:  Death and funeral of Nelson Mandela who fought all his life against apartheid in his country of South Africa and racial inequality the world over (link)

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Well, that’s 2013 all wrapped up, here’s to a good and science-filled 2014!

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