The fight against Ebola, Cystic Fibrosis and malnutrition, the first image of a black hole or the face of a Denisovan, quantum supremacy, do not miss the best that science has given us this year, according to the magazine Science
No doubt 2019 will be remembered by many as the year in which humanity captured the first image of a black hole. In honor of the feat that was once considered impossible, Science has named the image of the Event Horizon Telescope as the most important scientific breakthrough of this 2019. However, already in the form of tiny creatures, fossil remains or technological deployments, 2019 we He has left many other pleasant surprises. These are the 10 most important events that have taken place this year in the world of science.
Looking at the dark
Very few believed that it was possible, and yet this image, perhaps the most important of the decade and of what we have been of the century, left everyone open-mouthed. This is the first image of a black hole, published on April 10. The achievement, which is the definitive confirmation of the existence of black holes, has been chosen by the journal Science as the scientific milestone of 2019. Its existence was already deduced from the precepts of the theory of general relativity of Albert Einstein, which, however, considered the idea of a black hole too absurd to be real.
Face to face with the Denisovans
Because of the numerous fossils found in Europe and Asia, we are well aware of the history of other beings of the genus Homo with whom we shared the Earth one day, such as Neanderthals. However, until now and due to the absence of fossil and archaeological remains, we knew little of other of our closest cousins, the Denisovans, with whom we agreed about 50,000 years ago. This has changed this 2019 thanks to the genomic study of the phalanx of a little finger of these hominids, from which scientists have been able to reconstruct their appearance.
Achieved quantum supremacy
This past October, Google scientists announced the great surprise by stating that they had achieved quantum supremacy. Thanks to the development of quantum technology, the giant founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin has managed to perform an operation that the most powerful supercomputer today would take 10,000 years in just 200 seconds. This scientific and technological milestone opens the doors to developing new medicines, obtaining better fertilizers, getting more durable batteries.
Microbes against malnutrition
Each year, millions of severely malnourished children do not recover completely, remain stunted and sick even after being well fed. Ten years of research have indicated a root cause: their intestinal microbes do not mature. This year, an international team relied on that research to create a low-cost supplement that preferentially stimulates the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. The supplements worked well in a small trial, and large-scale clinical trials are now under way to see how the supplement works to prevent growth retardation.
The aftermath of a cataclysmic impact
After a giant asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago, 76% of the world’s species, including dinosaurs, disappeared. However, both how and when they died, and how fast the ecosystems recovered on Earth had been a mystery so far. Now, the sediment core extracted from the asteroid impact site in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, along with several rich fossil finds in the United States, are focusing on cataclysm and its consequences. The analysis of pollen, plant fossils, skulls of mammals and other bones in different places, seems to indicate that life was imposed much faster than expected.
The foreground of a distant object
Astronomers had long since discovered the thousands of objects lurking in the Kuiper belt, a region beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune, and which is believed to be home to little altered material from the first moments of the Solar System. However, it has not been until 2019 that, thanks to NASA’s New Horizonts space probe, scientists have achieved a close-up of one of these objects, the one named Arrokoth . Its strange shape and its homogeneous and unmarked surfaces support a new theory about planetary genesis. According to it, the protoplanets do not grow by collision after collision. Rather, shortly after the sun formed, static electricity gathered dusty grains into stones of a centimeter in size; the swirling of the primordial nebula formed during the beginning of our solar system would in turn cause these increasingly large pebbles to gather in clouds and gravitationally collapse into rock formations of up to a kilometer.
A lost microbial link
2019 has been a great year for microbiology. And this year there has been a revelation that sheds light on the controversy over the origin of eukaryotes, the group that covers all plants and animals, including humans. It is a strain called MK-D1 from an organism known as Prometheoarchaeum syntrophicum: a member of the recently recognized group of Asgard microbes, which are not bacteria but organisms that make up a completely separate branch of life called archaea. The Asgards were known only for DNA fragments isolated from deep-sea sediments and other extreme environments. Surprisingly, those fragments contain genes that were previously thought to only be found in eukaryotes, organisms with cells that have nuclei and organelles such as mitochondria. Comparative DNA analyzes indicated that the Asgards, or some of their ancient relatives, could have resulted in eukaryotic cells. That radical idea would reduce the domains of life from three – archaea, eukaryotes and bacteria – to two: bacteria and archaea, relegating eukaryotes to a subset of archaea. However, given the little evidence still available, many researchers have been skeptical of this new hypothesis.
A treatment for cystic fibrosis
The treatment, a combination of three medications called Trikafta , corrects the effects of the most common mutation behind this lung disease. For those who have the mutation, approximately 90% of all patients with Cystic Fibrosis could turn the condition, a progressive disease, into a more manageable chronic disease. Trikafta is the result of 30 years of research since the CF, CFTR gene was discovered.
Hope against Ebola
More than 40 years after the Ebola threat arose, the world is finally better prepared to deal with the virus. Amid the deadliest outbreak of the disease in the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, scientists identified two drugs that drastically reduce the mortality rates caused by the disease. Both are antibodies: one isolated from a survivor of the outbreak that took place in 1996, and the other a mixture of three antibodies produced in mice with humanized immune systems.
Artificial intelligence dominates multiplayer poker
Since its emergence, artificial intelligence has been progressively surpassing humans in all kinds of games and at a spectacular rate. In 2007, computer scientists developed an unbeatable program for ladies. In 2016, another team developed an artificial intelligence program that defeated the best players in the world of Go, a board game with many more configurations than the ladies. This year, an artificial intelligence program beat some of the best players in the world in the most popular version of poker.