Top Science News Stories Of 2016

Posted: Dec 29 2016, 2:27pm CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

 

Top Science News Stories of 2016
  • Looking back at the Science News of 2016 that are Worth Remembering
 

When we look back at the scientific news of 2016, we learn that some of them are indeed worth remembering.

The year 2016 when seen in a backwards glance seems to be filled with exciting and exhilarating stuff that transpired. Some of the news of science were such that they made everyone get up and take notice. Here are a few of the news and the impact they had on the world on the whole: 

1. Gravitational Waves

Physicists made some big gains in 2016. Ripples in space time were noted on February 11th. These were the gravitational waves. It’s been a century old struggle to observe these rare waves. The detecting agency was called LIGO. The event transpired a billion years ago in the form of a collision of two black holes.

This was noted down in the present era and gravitation waves were released in the aftermath of the event. Albert Einstein’s predictions seemed to have been vindicated today. The LIGO was responsible for detecting what otherwise would have been completely ignored. The ESA’s LISA Pathfinder also played its part in the whole thing. Meanwhile, particles that were six times as big as the Higgs Boson were hypothesized. 

2. The Outbreak of the Zika Virus Epidemic

The WHO issued a list of birth defects linked with the Zika Virus. Brazil was the epicenter of the outbreak. Pretty soon it became a global problem since it had spread to several other countries. The biggest defect was microcephaly. The fetuses end up with small-sized heads and brains. However, the massive surge in microcephaly didn’t materialize which was quite a relief for so many.

There are only pockets of regions in northeast Brazil where microcephaly is more common. Finally, the development of a vaccine is also underway. Zika will be beat like the Ebola Virus or Dengue Fever. But it will not take place without a fight to the finish. That will take every ounce of effort that mankind has in its repertoire of capabilities. 

3. Proxima B or New Earth lies Nearby

The Alpha Centauri system which lies close to our sun consists of three stars. It has long been a favorite topic of interest in science fiction. The human imagination knows no bounds when it comes to dreaming up images of what inhabitants and landscapes exist on the planets close to these stars. Proxima b was declared to be a place where life could possibly exist. The habitable zone was limited. The climate of this region is just right for water to exist. This fact alone changes the game. Distance-wise the star is still very far away.

Observations from earth show the presence of Proxima b. Astronomers are still looking into the way Proxima b behaves as a heavenly body. Yet even if Proxima b is not fully mapped, there are other planets in its vicinity that are substitutes worth studying. With these investigations, the chances of finding alien life forms in outer space will surely increase. Maybe one fine day in the future we will come upon a civilization way more advanced than our own in the proximity of Proxima b. 

4. CRISPR-Cas9 Gene-editing Successful in Humans

Novel genome-editing techniques are having a field day as they have a leveling effect. CRISPR is the new kid on the block. It has many applications and will lead to the wiping out of many diseases in the future. Cancer patients were treated with the CRISPR technique. More cancer trials will take place next year in both China and the US. There is always the ethical side of this question. Genetic engineering may produce monsters if it goes wrong in the times to come. So care is the watchword. The prospects of designer babies brings up images of horror among many who are traditional or conservative. 

5. Minimal Genome and the Synthesis of Cells

The making of a bacterium with just 473 genes was made possible in 2016. The genetic blueprint for this is the smallest ever seen. It represents a huge shift in the direction of progress for the science of genetic engineering. What it marks is the creation of a living organism although on a very limited and primitive level. This organism contains the bare minimum needed to survive and reproduce.

These minimal organisms have several uses including the fact that they could pump out medicines in the human body. As a novel bacterium, the primitive organism was lauded as a triumph of modern science. The feat was basically accomplished by slipping in the internal materials of a bacterium into another one which had been eviscerated. Some very extreme techniques including CRISPR were used to accomplish the creation of this living organism. 

6. Three-Parent Baby

The mixture of three individual’s DNAs took place in 2016. It was a milestone in science. This procedure allowed the cancelling of metabolic defects. The issues in motochondria lay behind this phenomenon. Mexico and China were the two countries where babies were conceived using this controversial process. Now UK has also approved three-parent baby.

7. Loss of Arctic Sea Ice is a Catastrophe in the Making

Extreme loss of sea ice is a reality that stares humanity in the face. It was an expected thing seeing the role that global warming has played in the whole equation. In 2016, melting took place at the polar regions and Arctic passages were opened up due to climate change. Talk regarding this had been going on since a decade and now it is a virtual reality. The lesser the ice at the North Pole, the more will be the tourists who flock there during the summer months.

Some of the world maritime routes would also be shortened in their duration. Many Arctic species have also been affected by these radical changes in the ecosystem. Some of the birds and animals face imminent extinction while others are up against forced migration patterns due to the high heat. Even plants have had their usual lives turned topsy turvy by the change in climate. The shrinking ice is a danger sign that mankind ignores only at its peril. 

8. Ancient Human Migration and the Population of the Global Village

The ancient journey of primitive man out of Africa and into the rest of the continents is a story that has DNA evidence to back it up. The ancient human migration was not simple and straightforward. It was a complicated process to say the least. Migrations and extinctions alternated. The evidence is a tangled mess and sorting it out is the job of the scientists. They’re doing a pretty good job of it.

A clear picture has still not been formed though. One thing is for sure. Between 75,000 and 50,000 years ago, people left Africa. Most non-Africans have DNA that is derived from this stock. Whether the permutations then went on to populate the Middle East or Papua New Guinea, it was all just plain spreading from there onwards. Computer simulations have shown this process with fidelity. Thus the ancient heritage of mankind remains Africa. Later on there was mating between Africans and those returning from areas beyond Africa. All the evidence is being sifted with care so as to get the conclusions right.

9. Climate Change and Future Trouble

The nations of the world got together to do something about the climate change crisis. Over 174 countries converged in Paris to sign the accord. The USA under POTUS Obama was one of the leading examples of a nation that took the initiative in the matter. Over 55 countries caused 55% of the greenhouse gas emissions. The USA and China alone account for 38% of the global emissions.

The emissions from fossil fuels as well as flights that speed across skies around the world spread unnecessary pollution which is the bane of modern man’s predicament. Obama helped set up the largest marine reserve near Hawaii. Coral reefs also faced major bleaching issues during the course of the year. 

10. Alzheimer’s Treatment (New Medicine makes Disease’s Origins Clearer)

Alzheimer’s research profited from the analysis of a drug aducanumab. It is basically an antibody drug. This medicine sweeps the cobwebs of the plaque amyloid-beta proteins from the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, according to ScienceNews. Alzheimer’s is caused by the agglutination of amyloid. Over 5 million people in the USA are afflicted by the curse of Alzheimer’s on an  annual basis. The experiments that were carried out via this drug showed that the war against Alzheimer’s will hopefully end in the eradication of the disease.     

11. Donald Trump and A Brave New World

The US elections surprised or rather shocked everyone including the winner who took it all. Everybody had thought that Trump wouldn’t make it due to his inherently racist and negative personality. Yet he made it to the top through a blustering and bullying attitude. What others only managed to think, Trump said in front of all the world. Some have already begun to call him the Teflon President in imitation of what the late Ronald Reagan was called in his times. The Trump administration’s attitude to science is a mixed one.

While climate change science is being given short shrift by Trump, the “Make America Great Again” agenda does have a few things that may lead to progress willy-nilly. Then the UK’s Brexit exit from the EU left many holding their heads in agony. Nobody had expected such a course of action yet it had happened despite all expectations to the contrary. A military coup failed in Turkey and Erdogan got all the applause from the masses as the rightful leader of the nation that joins East and West. 

12. The Superiority of Artificial Intelligence

In January, 2016 a computer beat a player who happened to be a champion. The game was Go and it involved a lot of complex maneuvers. Later on in March, another example of AI, AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol. He was the world’s topmost player. Another AI machine was capable of navigating the London Underground. This is thus the coming of age of AI as it excels in the field and tends to magnify the capabilities of humans by severalfold. AI also reduces errors by 60% in machine translation of languages. Also the finding and manufacture of super materials followed a trajectory that was due to AI. 

13. The Race for Space

It is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Yet in reality several tech glitches botched the process for some space agencies. JAXA’s satellite failed a few weeks after launch. It was all due to a software error. For better or worse, the satellite has begun working again yet it is slow in making observations. As for the ESA, it ended two of its mission probes, according to Nature. The Schiaparelli crash landed on the surface of Mars. Then the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft crashed into the Comet 67P. That too thus ended in a fiasco. China meanwhile made plans to construct a huge radio telescope in its Guizhou district

Thus these were some of the things in science that occurred in 2016. They involved some that were for the best, others that were okay and a few that were controversial. All in all, science is a mixed blessing.

While it does tend to lead to progress and the betterment of the quality of life for man, it also has no direction or morals attached with it on an inherent basis. The moral imperative has got to be imposed by man alone.

Also science has led to certain issues that didn’t exist in the past and do not have any easy solution. These are resource depletion, nuclear fallout and environmental pollution. There is no straightforward answer or pet formula that will get us past these problems. 

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
Sumayah Aamir (Google+) has deep experience in analyzing the latest trends.

 

 

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