Saturday, 31 December 2016

What does 2016 mean for science?

2016.. A year of huge political change, instability and adjustment. It has been an undeniably intense year. But what does it all mean for science? What other things have happened this year that will change the course of science in the future?

The world has certainly changed a lot in 2016.
Source: Pexel
Here are some of the crazy, awe-inspiring and exciting things that happened in 2016 and how they have affected, or been affected by, science.

A head transplant was successfully carried out on a monkey
The successful transplant could have implications for potential head transplants for humans
Source: BBC/ThinkStock
In mid-January, the first successful head transplant was reported to have been carried out on a monkey. However, it's worth noting that the scientist reporting this news is the same scientist hoping to carry out a human head transplant next year. Whilst the idea of this operation seems slightly insane at the moment, it may be no different to the initial opposition to many other transplants that are now common, such as liver, kidney etc. Read more about it here.

Gravitational waves were recorded for the first time
Black holes colliding and merging, creating gravitational waves
Source: LIGO/Wikimedia Commons
Over 100 years ago, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, but it was not until February this year that they were actually recorded. The waves, which are ripples in the curvature of spacetime, are created by massive events in space, such as two black holes colliding. The recording of these waves actually happening is huge for the scientific community, and some say we may be able to use this knowledge to look further back in time than ever before. To learn more about this topic, check out Vox's coverage here.

The Large Hadron Collider, the largest particle accelerator in the world, is expected to be affected by Brexit.
Source: The New Statesman
The UK voting to leave the European Union on the 23rd of June shocked many, and threw major aspects of society into uncertainty - jobs, research, funding, to name a few. Funding is a huge part of scientific research, and is entirely vital in some cases. The Large Hadron Collider, for example, depends on international collaboration of scientists, which in turn depends on funding and investment from a variety of countries through co-operation. Aside from this, leaving the EU means that much of the funding that various UK-based scientists depend on is no longer available - even the funding this is still open to applications will only be a fraction of what was previously offered. Reflecting these views, a poll from the journal Nature in late March this year found 83% of researchers favoured Remain, with only 12% supporting Leave. Read more about this here.

World's first baby born using 3-parent technique
Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy was honed as a technique to produce a '3-parent baby' this year.
Source: ScienceNews
In September, the world's first 3 parent baby was born. I've discussed this exciting news in a previous blog post, available here. In essence, a baby was born to a couple who had previously suffered 4 miscarriages and given birth to 2 other babies that had died soon after. The new technique that allowed the parents to give birth to a healthy baby used a form of IVF in which mitochondrial DNA comes from a third person (the 'third parent'), in addition to DNA from both of the parents. The technique was declared legal in October last year here in the UK, and the hopes are that it will help parents around the world with mitochondrial diseases to give birth to healthy children in the future.

Trump was elected
The election of Trump means uncertainty for science.
Source: Cornell Current
Unless you've been living under a rock, the fact that Trump was elected in November won't come as news to you. In a presidential campaign filled with inaccurate scientific information (among many other unmentionables), it's astounding that he was still elected. Trump's denial of climate change (in his words, "a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese") is a sign of potentially what is to come during his presidency; will there be shifts in governmental funding for various science programmes or research? How will Trump choose to deal with climate change? There are many uncertainties as to how science will be affected over the next 4 years, but perhaps Trump's recent plan to get rid of Nasa climate change research gives an idea of his plans. Read more about it in The Guardian here.

A new discovery has serious potential for helping to cure Alzheimer's disease
Verubecestat has serious potential to treat Alzheimer's disease.
Source: TechTimes
A new study published in Science Translational Medicine in November reported the discovery of an enzyme's ability to tackle Alzheimer's disease. The new compound, called verubecestat, is a BACE1 inhibitor - it blocks BACE1, which is an enzyme that normally contributes to the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's. If you'd like to learn more, I've also covered this news in a previous blog post, available here.

The first vaccine proven to be effective against Ebola is created
The new vaccine is reported to be 70-100% effective.
Source: DailyBeast/Getty Images
A new vaccine, described in a study published in The Lancet in December, has been found to be 70-100% effective against the Ebola virus. Since the 2014 outbreak, Ebola has killed more than 11,000 people. Normally vaccines take around 10 years from production stages to actually becoming available to the public, but Merck (the company that manufactures the vaccine) has promised to produce 300,000 doses of the vaccine to prepare in case of another Ebola outbreak. Whilst the vaccine is still in its experimental stages, there is no doubt that this is a step in the right direction. Find out more here.

It's certainly been a whirlwind year. Some might feel glad this year is over, and that 2017 will be a new start; for those concerned about some of the less pleasing news this year, it's probably comforting to think of 2017 as a fresh slate! But, purely looking at the scientific discoveries that happened this year, research has progressed in leaps and bounds, and truly answered some questions that have been puzzling scientists for years. Personally I think 2016 has been great for scientific discoveries, and I'm excited to find out what 2017 will bring!

What do you think was the biggest science story this year? Are you looking forward to 2017? Let me know in the comments!


Finally, just a short note: thank you to anyone who's taken the time to read, comment, like or share anything from my blog. I really do appreciate it!! In May next year I will have been running this blog for 3(!) years, something I never imagined could happen when I started Mind the Brain, and that's partly due to the motivation and encouragement I get from reading your comments! 
Oh, and thank you SO much to anyone who voted for me in the UK Blog Awards 2017! I appreciate it so much!!

Emily x


  1. Very Interesting, thank you for sharing. xx

  2. Some of these things sound crazy - I never would have thought a head transplant was possible! Will be interesting to see how Brexit/ Trump presidency impact government policies re. research funding and climate change. Congrats on your upcoming blog milestone too x

    nishKpatel | Manchester life & style blog