The scientific highlights of 2018

Embryonic development, the oldest animal and a prehistoric half-breed child

Tracing Embryo Cell by Cell - That's the Breakthrough of 2018 © AAAS
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How does a single cell become a whole organism? The answer to this question has been chosen by the trade journal "Science" as the breakthrough of the year 2018. Thanks to new methods, researchers can follow embryo development cell by cell for the first time. Among the scientific highlights of the year are also a neutrino-spitting blazar, the oldest animal in the world and a primeval mongrel child.

Every year, just before Christmas, the science journalists vote for their top ten of the year: the research and discoveries they consider the most significant. One of them is the breakthrough of the year. In 2017, this was the first evidence of a neutron star collision. In 2016, the first gravitational waves were the top achievement, and in 2015, the gene scissors CRISPR / Cas9.

From the cell to the organism

This year, a milestone in embryonic research is at the top of the list - and a mystery that has already occupied ancient scholars: How does the fertilized egg cell produce the whole complex body of a living thing? And what controls this development? For a long time, this mystery at the cellular level has eluded any observation, but with the development of modern analysis technologies this has changed.

The highlights of the year 2018. © Science Magazine

With new analysis methods, researchers can now track which genes are turned on or off in cells at what time. By combining this method, called "single-cell RNA-seq", with technologies that allow individual cells to be labeled and traced in the embryo, scientists can observe live how the cells assemble into tissues. In 2018, the embryonic development of flatworms, a fish, a frog and other animals was already deciphered in this way. display

For the first time, a neutrino captured by the IceCube observatory at the South Pole has revealed where the high-energy cosmic rays come from. IceCube Collaboration / NSF

Neutrino origin and an ice age impact

Other highlights of the year include two "heavenly" events: the first is closely linked to the neutrino detector IceCube at the South Pole. With his help and with telescopes worldwide, scientists were able to trace energy-rich cosmic neutrinos back to their source for the first time. According to these, almost massless elementary particles were formed in a blazar rund an active black hole in the heart of a galaxy some 4 billion light-years away.

The second heavenly event is the discovery of a 31-kilometer impact crater under the ice of Greenland. This crater must have been created by a kilometer-large lump, possibly only during the last ice age. But this means that our ancestors probably experienced the consequences of this impact disaster.

Dickinsonia - the oldest known animal - could have looked like 558 million years ago. Australian National University

First-time mixed-race child and testlestes animal

Going far back in human history is another highlight of 2018: A girl who died 50, 000 years ago turned out to be a primeval mixed-race child. DNA analysis revealed that the child found in Siberia was the daughter of a Neanderthal woman and a Denisova man. This again confirmed the fact that the different human species of the genus Homo intersected again and again and produced hybrid forms.

Even further back to the origin of terrestrial wildlife is a breakthrough in palaeontology. In the fall of 2018, researchers used advanced analytical methods to identify the world's oldest multi-cellular animal. In the 558-million-year-old fossil from Russia, they revealed relics of typical animal fat molecules. Only then did they succeed in revealing the true nature of this mystery.

Researchers as criminologists

On the other hand, DNA analyzes provided quite practical benefits in the solution of an old criminal case: thanks to an extensive DNA database in the USA, researchers were able to convict a serial rapist of the 1970s and 1980s. They compared DNA profiles of several relatives of the offender with DNA traces on the victims.

Rounding out the highlights is the approval of a drug that treats a hereditary disease through RNA blockade, a new way to decode crystal structures, and the discovery that proteins in cells form a kind of drop. Last but not least, the "Science" editors also rated the #MeToo campaign as one of the most important events of the year. Because it has also made a lot of changes in the world of science.

Source: Science

- Nadja Podbregar