Top 10 Scientific Discoveries of the last 10 Years

The last 10 years have seen a large number of major scientific discoveries, from the construction of an extensive database of genomic information to the discovery of other planets in our galaxy. Below is a brief list of the most important scientific discoveries of the last decade.

10) The large hadron collider (2008). While the LHC hasn’t actually worked as of yet and it is not really a discovery, but it does show promise for the future of physics. The massive particle accelerator, when operational, will give particle physicists a glimpse into the world immediately following the big bang. The hope is that work done in the LHC will give us incredible insight into the holy grail of physics, a grand unification theory.

9) Discovery of the Toumai skull (2002). Researchers working in central Africa discovered the oldest hominid fossil to date. Its discovery highlights a possible common ancestor between apes and humans and light on the possibility that human evolution had been occurring across Africa, rather than in a very localized region as originally thought.

8) Planets around other stars (1995-present). Over the last decade, researchers have discovered many planets orbiting stars elsewhere in our galaxy. A small handful of the planets show the potential to have life-sustainable conditions. We may soon see the discovery of life on other planets.

7) Water on the surface of Mars (2004). Ripples along the surface of Mars made ripples in the scientific communities as researchers concluded that water must have existed on Mars at one time. The rippled surface must have been at the bottom of a shallow sea.

6) RNA gene switches (2002). The discovery of small RNAs that act as genomic switches has radically changed our understanding of human genome regulation, while creating hundreds of new problems and questions that need to be addressed. The discovery is a follow-up of the discovery of RNAi, or interfering RNA, which was made in 1998.

5) Development of adult stem cell lines (2000-present). Stem cells are those cells with the ability to be programmed to serve as any other cell type. This creates unlimited potential for stem cells as a therapeutic for repairing damaged tissues in patients with a variety of illnesses. With the controversy surrounding the destruction of embryonic stem cells, researchers set out to find ways to reprogram adult stem cells to serve the same function as the all-powerful embryonic cells. In late 2007, conclusive research has shown that adult skin cells can be reprogrammed to behave as embryonic stem cells.

4) Alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles (2001). While mass-produced hybrid vehicles have been in production since the mid-90’s, they did not really come to any real commercial success until the early 2000’s when the Toyota Prius was released in the United States. Since then, alternative fuel technology and the development of newer, more fuel efficient hybrids has been a prominent field of research, with many new and exciting advancements. Soon multiple companies will be releasing plug-in electric vehicles, including Chevy’s highly publicized Volt. This marks the beginning of a worldwide transition away from fossil fuels.

3) Artificial life (2008). Craig Venter, a genome pioneer and the famous man behind the competition to the publicly sponsored human genome project, announced his labs had created the first artificial organism. They began by creating a perfect replica of the genome of Mycoplasma genitalium, the bacterium with the smallest known genome. This replica was created by synthesizing DNA fragments and a variety of techniques were used to splice it back together. They showed that they could insert that DNA into a DNA free cell and that it would live.

Their next goal is to remove as many genes as possible from their genome copy to determine what would be the minimum set of genes for a bacterium to live and reproduce. While it is unclear how successful they have been, it does show great promise for a future where organisms can be developed to meet very specific needs. For instance, insulin today is generally produced by modified organisms. But you can imagine a situation where a totally synthesized organism serves one function, to produce insulin or even other critical chemicals including biofuels.

2) Global warming and its worldwide effects (2008). Global warming has been a prominent theory about worldwide climate change for some time, but recent evidence has been extremely supportive of the theory as a whole. Trends show that on average, the worldwide temperature has been increasing relatively consistently since the early 1900s. Furthermore, teams of researchers have shown that arctic ice levels reached a record low in 2008, after breaking records set for a few consecutive years.

1) The human genome project (2000). With the first completed rough draft of the human genome, the genetic revolution began. Armed with computational resources, a large number of powerful techniques for analysis of genome expressions, including micro-array analysis, and the human genome sequence, scientists began to generate huge amounts of data that would revolutionize how we understand human genetics.

The fields of bioinformatics and computational biology took off as scientists began using computational techniques to search for coding sequences, align DNA stretches for sequence identity and homology, and perform comparative analysis to develop evolutionary trees. Gene annotation took off as well, as scientists sought new means for analyzing the huge reams of data generated. While many of these techniques already existed, they grew by leaps and bounds as actual medical applications could be developed (before this time, the genomes of model organisms were the only ones that had been sequenced to a large degree).