2020 in review: The year that was

2020: The year science took centre-stage

The year 2020 also termed as the year of the pandemic, social distancing, work from home, was also the year of research at breakneck speed. Virologists, immunologists, computational biologists, epidemiologists, and medical professionals across the globe turned into superheroes without capes.

Quick sequencing of the whole genome of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) helped develop various test kits. We now have not one or two, but multiple COVID-19 vaccines that have succeeded in human clinical trials. Moderna's and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines that use messenger RNA have reported efficacy of about 95%, and the United Kingdom, the United States and the United Arab Emirates have already launched mass vaccinations.

Apart from new findings on coronavirus every single day, the year was also filled with stories from outer space, archeology and anatomy. Here is a list of a few of them in random order

Water on the Moon

In October, NASA confirmed, for the first time, water on the sunlit side of the Moon indicating that water may be distributed across the moon’s surface, and not limited to the cold and shadowed side.

A new gland in humans

Researchers from the Netherlands Cancer Institute announced in October that they have discovered a new pair of salivary glands hidden between the nasal cavity and throat. The team proposed the name “tubarial glands” and noted that this identification “could help to explain and avoid radiation-induced side-effects” such as trouble during eating, swallowing, and speaking.

Microbes on Venus?

 

In September, an international scientific team announced that they have spotted phosphine gas on Venus. On Earth, microorganisms that live in “anaerobic” (with no oxygen) environments produce phosphine. Massachusetts Institute of Technology molecular astrophysicist and study co-author Clara Sousa-Silva said in a release, “This is important because, if it is phosphine, and if it is life, it means that we are not alone. It also means that life itself must be very common, and there must be many other inhabited planets throughout our galaxy.”

Read our detailed explainer here.

Watch | Scientists discover possible sign of life on Venus
 

CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors in tackling diseases

In March, a person suffering from Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare inherited disease that leads to blindness, became the first to have CRISPR/Cas-9-based therapy directly injected into the body.

In June, two patients with beta-thalassemia and one with sickle cell disease had their bone marrow stem cells edited using CRISPR techniques.

Click here to read our explainer on the genome-editing tool that won this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Stories from Indus Valley vessels

The year 2020 marks 100 years of discovery of Indus Valley Civilisation, and a new study showed that dairy products were being produced by the Harappans as far back as 2500 BCE.

Another study found the presence of animal products, including cattle and buffalo meat, in ceramic vessels dating back about 4,600 years.

Samples from the Moon and an asteroid

China’s Chang’e-5 probe brought back about 1,731 grams of samples from the moon becoming the third country to bring moon samples after the U.S and Soviet Union.

Also, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 brought back the first extensive samples from an asteroid. The spacecraft, launched from Japan's Tanegashima space centre in 2014, took four years to reach the asteroid Ryugu before taking a sample and heading back to Earth in November 2019.

NASA launches Mars rover Perseverance

Mars rover Perseverance blasted off for the red planet on July 30 to bring the first Martian rock samples back to Earth. If all goes well, the rover will descend to the Martian surface on February 18, 2021.

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2021 8:02:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/2020-the-year-science-took-centre-stage/article33444506.ece

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