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Genetic advances make dreams and nightmares a reality – GeekWire

He is jiankui
Chinese researcher He Jiankui discusses the efforts of his laboratory to produce children whose genes have been modified to protect them from future HIV infection. (The Lab Lab via YouTube)

In science, these were the best and worst times.

2018 was the year when researchers focused on ways to prevent disease by reprogramming the patient's own cells, and also overcome what many considered ethical red lines in genetic experiments. It was the first year when women won the Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry, but also the year when the #MeToo problem came to the fore in the scientific community.

And this was the year when the departure of the British physicist Stephen Hawking, who may have been the most famous living scientist in the world, was marked.

Looking back at 2018, I see some stories that I missed, but eventually they became noticeable in the year-end reviews. So, to even out the situation, my list of the top ten focuses on the five events that we showed in the last 12 months, and another five that did not receive much attention at that time. Feel free to use the comments section to give away recorded newsletters for science and summer events of the year. (For example, the sad story of Talekwe and the population of southern killer whale tops the list at the end of the year in the Seattle Times):

Five breakthroughs that we presented

Genedically edited children born in China: Last month, genetic researcher He Jiankui announced that twin girls were born with a genetically modified mutation aimed at preventing infection with the HIV virus. This statement raised concern about the fact that the door was opened in science fiction scenarios, in which genetic traits are modified or enhanced in order to create real equivalents of X-Men (and X-Women) comics. But since then there has been an increase in questions about what he and his colleagues actually did (or did not do). Their experiments are currently suspended due to numerous studies.

Immunotherapy beats a great time: Methods that improve the patient's own immune system to fight cancer and other diseases have gained momentum in the past year thanks to research aimed at maximizing the benefits of genetically engineered cells while reducing negative side effects. Seattle is becoming the center of such research, thanks to the Fred Hutchinson Research Center and a variety of biotechnology enterprises. Recent local immunotherapy heroes include Juno Therapeutics, Seattle Genetics, Aminex Therapeutics, OncoResponse and Kineta. The following year, the Institute of Immunology. Allen – with funds of 125 million dollars from the late founder of the institute Paul Allen.

Solving the secrets of the brain: The Allen Institute began its activities 15 years ago with an emphasis on neuroscience, and the past year brought a number of successes. In March, researchers from the Institute presented a publicly accessible database of computerized neuron models that could be combined into Lego blocks to simulate brain activity. The researchers also took part in the project, which opened a new breed of human brain cells, and compiled a “list of details” for the brain in studies presented on the cover of Nature magazine. Looking to the future, the institute and its Allen Frontiers group will play a role in many multi-million dollar efforts, focusing on the link between brain function and disease.

Returning to the issue of climate change: More than a year after President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate, there was another reason for concern about climate. One study showed that global carbon dioxide emissions are rising again after three relatively even years. The analysis, published by the White House, contradicted Trump's own views and focused on the impact of climate change on the region. Researchers at the University of Washington participated in studies documenting the loss of ice in the Western Antarctic and tracing the role of ancient global warming in the Earth’s greatest extinction. Washington state voters have rejected a plan that sets a price for CO2 emissions, but this problem will surely come up again in the coming months and years — at least if people like Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Washington Governor Jay Insley will have some opinion in this matter.

Getting back to the Titanic: Everett, Wash., OceanGate, missed a hit on the schedule, according to which researchers and mission specialists this summer (don't call them tourists!) Go down to the Titanic crash. But during the trials this month in the Bahamas, the OceanGate team, led by CEO Stockton Rush, successfully conducted a test dive to a Titanic level depth of 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). This made Rush only the second person in history who made a solo dive to this depth. (The director of the film "Titanic" James Cameron was the first.) This achievement allows you to re-immerse "Titan" in Oceangate for the expeditions "Titanic", which will begin next summer.

Five breakthroughs we missed

Fighting crime in the meanest way … from DNA: Genealogists like me are not the only ones who use DNA testing. This year, there was a case where investigators used genetic tests on a family tree to solve a murder case of a 31-year-old Washington state. An analysis of the archived DNA helped the authorities narrow the search to a 55-year-old suspect who was arrested in Seattle in May. This strategy also led to the arrest of a suspect in the Golden State, California, and more than a dozen other arrests in April. Researchers say the genealogical DNA readings can be used to identify approximately 60 percent of white Americans, even if they have not personally tested for DNA.

Sequencing of unicellular RNA: The journal "Science" lists this method of genetic analysis as the main breakthrough in 2018. It involves isolating thousands of intact cells from living organisms, sequencing the expressed genetic material in each cell, and then reconstructing the relationships of cells in space and time. Unicellular RNA-seq can trace how human cells mature throughout life, how tissues regenerate, and what goes wrong when they fall ill. German biologist Nikolaus Rajewski told Science that the method "will change the next decade of research."

A crater that killed mammoths? Scientists have discovered traces of a massive impact crater under a layer of ice in Greenland half a mile thick, thanks to a study by NASA's "Ice Bridge". The 19-mile crater Giawata is remarkable not only for its size and technical analysis required for detection, but also because it can help in long discussions about the extinction factors of species such as mammoths and mastodons. Supporters of the Younger Dryas hypothesis say that the comet explosion could provoke forest fires in North America 12,800 years ago, which led to a global cooling that destroyed the megafauna and condemned the culture of the Clovis continent. Not everyone is convinced that there is a connection between the Younger Dryas hypothesis and the Hiawata crater, but this discovery received a rating of the top ten from both Science and Science News.

Tracking confusion in the family tree of humanity: The debate about the roots of our species, Homo Sapiens, has continued for many years, but some of the results presented this year show how thick our family tree is. The ancient DNA contained in the Siberian bone, which is 50,000 years old, indicates that two extinct descendants from the ancestors of a rational man, known as Neanderthals and Denisov, were crossed. This adds enough evidence that humans and Neanderthals "did it" tens of thousands of years ago. Another study shows that ancient cousins ​​of the genus Homo inhabited China hundreds of thousands of years earlier than previously thought. And even more studies show that Neanderthals were equal to Homo Sapiens in artistic talent, which is contrary to the stereotype of "primitive caveman."

New archaeological borders of Egypt: The stories that had the greatest impact on my list of retweets reported many archaeological finds in remote parts of Egypt that are in the middle of nowhere, including a set of eight 2,300-year-old mummies in the Dahshur necropolis south of Cairo and the pristine 4400-year-old tomb Saqqara. There were also noticeable misfires, including the discovery of a thousand-year-old sarcophagus, which, as it turned out, was filled with not very ancient sewage, and the definition that King Tut’s tomb does not contain a hidden chamber in the end.

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