Science magazine published the top ten list of scientific achievements in 2002
A whole group of works by various scientists was called the first and the most important scientific achievement of the last year. All those works were devoted to RNA’s role. Until recently it was believed that RNA has only one, albeit a very important function – to read instructions in an adequate DNA gene, and to create the adequate protein on the ground of that. Scientists have recently discovered a whole class of so-called micro-RNAs. As it turned out, they can turn a gene on and off, and they can even change the genome contents. In other words, biologists will have to reconsider their perception of a cell and its evolution. At the same time, scientists will have a new opportunity to search for methods for treating such ailments as cancer, for example (the ailments, which appear as a result of genome mistakes).
The second most important breakthrough, as experts of the magazine saw it, was made in the field of elementary-particle physics. In 2002 an international group of scientists that worked with the neutrino telescope in Canada, finally unveiled the secret of solar neutrino, which remained mystery for thirty years. When physicists started registering neutrinos that were born inside the Sun, they were surprised to find out that the number of those neutrinos was three times as less as it was actually expected: either scientists’ conception of the world physics was wrong, or neutrinos turned to something else on their way from the Sun to the Earth. There are three kinds of neutrinos, which differ from each other with their quantum characteristics: electronic neutrino, muon and tau-neutrino. For the time being, people can register only electronic neutrino. Physics supposed that electronic neutrinos manage to change their ‘aroma,’ when they fly from the Sun to the Earth. However, it would be possible only if neutrino was a mass-possessing substance. Although, it has always been considered that neutrino is massless.
Existence without any mass sounds totally absurd for the people, who do not have any special education in physics. However, scientists are used to such kind of absurdity. The latest piece of news arrived from Canada in February: neutrino particles are capable of changing their aromas a lot quicker than during the period of eight minutes (the time, which takes them to get from the Sun to planet Earth).
The third most important progress was registered in the field of genome studies. Scientists decoded the genomes of Plasmodium Falciparum malaria mosquito, as well as of two, most widely-spread kinds of Asian rice. Probably, this discovery will not bring anything special for the science, although it is very important for the majority of developing countries. This discovery makes it possible to defeat malaria and hunger.
The fourth position on the list is taken by space exploration. Scientists discovered the space radiation, which remained in the Universe after the Great explosion. Scientists even found out, when the radiation appeared – 400 thousand years after the Great explosion. Chile-based telescope Cosmic Background Imager made it possible to register the structure of the radiation in a very detailed way.
The fifth position is taken by the research, which explains, why spicy meals seem to taste warmer than others, and why menthol causes the feeling of cold. Scientists discovered a special kind of protein in man’s mouth. This protein is fixed on skin cells, which react to chemical odors and temperature changes at one and the same time. That is why a certain kind of smell causes feelings of heat or cold.
The sixth scientific progress is especially interesting. Scientists managed to film the life of electrons with the use of ultrashort laser impulses. Those impulses are extremely short – attoseconds, a billionth part of a billionth part of a second. People have never dreamed of making something that short. A technique like that given a possibility to see, how an electron moves from one energetic level to another.
Achievement number seven is connected with technologies, which allow to compensate the influence of the earth atmosphere on the acuity of telescope vision. As a result, telescopes on Hawaii and Chile allow to take incredibly accurate photographs. Astronomers managed to see the center of our Galaxy and to find the evidence of a super-massive black hole there. It was also possible to watch a volcano eruption on Jupiter’s Io satellite, and to take extremely clear solar surface images.
Achievement number eight is the discovery of light-sensitive cells in the retina of mammal eyes. As scientists think, those cells allow to reinstall the circadian, or the daily inner clock of a human being.
The ninth position is taken by something really outstanding – the cryoelectronic tomography. This is a technology, which allows to take three-dimensional images of an instantly frozen cell and to watch basic life processes in it.
The tenth position on the list of major scientific discoveries of 2002 is taken by the discovery of the most ancient hominid. This achievement is likely to turn our human evolution concept upside down. As it was informed in the beginning of the past year, anthropologists found an ape skull not far from Lake Chad. The skull was about six or seven million years old. In other words, it was three million years older than any other skull of a hominid that was found before. The skull’s structure proves that it belonged to a human being, not to an ape. The place of the finding was also a surprise. Lake Chad is located in the West of Africa, while all previous discoveries of ancient human ancestors were made in the East of the African continent. It is generally believed at present that the east of Africa is the place, which gave birth to humanity.
The annual top ten list of scientific achievements of Science magazine does not have any analogues in the world. No one else deals with that. English Nature magazine could get involved in that too, for it is a very popular and respectable scientific magazine. However, Nature magazine will never do that, because top ten lists are already compiled by Science.
We would like to mention here that the top ten lists of the magazine could be expanded to a top twenty list. Science did not include such remarkable discoveries as decoding mouse genome, discovering oceans of water on Mars, a planned face transplantation operation, searching for life in the ocean of Jupiter’s Europe satellite, and many other amazing scientific achievements.
Vladimir Pokrovsky Kurierweb
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov