2019: The Year Ahead In Science

The past year we saw various achievements in the different scientific disciplines. In today’s article we will explore what are some of advances we can expect which can build upon 2018’s findings. It promises to be an exciting year ahead and for the years to follow!

~ Adaptive Light Microscopy

The Keller lab this year released a monumental advance in developmental biology when they utilized adaptive light-sheet microscopy to visualize (and reconstruct) mouse development (in toto) at the single-cell level. This provides scientists rudimentary information on how organisms develop from the most basic form possible – a cell to a whole organism. It is needless to say that this should have several implications in burgeoning future studies and if you consider what we can do with such large scale information when combined with data pouring out of the human genome project – the possibilities are definitely, as they might say, endless. This atlas promises to build on the every growing repository information at our disposal in combination with the brain mapping project set to complete in 2023. Not only did they visualize the development of several vital organs but they also reconstructed high resolution maps of the morphogenesis processes and just like every well meaning and collaborative scientists – made the information on how to reconstruct their microscopy techniques completely public and freely accessible by all.

Article – [In Toto Imaging and Reconstruction of Post- Implantation Mouse Development at the Single- Cell Level]

~Gravitational Waves

Back in 2015 scientists used an instrument called – Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory aka LIGO to detect what is known as Gravitational Waves. So what is a gravitational wave and why is it important? In most simplest of terms these are “ripples” in the fabric of space time or you can say in the curvature of space time in which all celestial objects are suspended in. These are generated by accelerated masses and some of the most enormous objects in the universes per se. It is caused by some of the most violent and energetic process in the known universe and they continue to propagate outwards from their source e.g. a black holes or neutron stars. Of course the math showed the evidence for their existence but this was the first time an instrument claimed to have detected actual evidence for Grav Waves. This can answer several questions on the nature of gravity itself and reveal more advances in technology based out of Einstein’s own theories of general relativity. Now in 2018 – scientists have tallied up as many as 11 detected gravitational waves and reported on arXiv.org and with a new set of detectors that Japan is set to release the future of understanding the universe in greater detail is looking exceptionally bright. Thanks to these recent advances scientists have data pointing to understanding the stellar-masses of black holes and also understand one of the most basic science questions of all time – the very nature of gravity itself.

Articles - https://arxiv.org/abs/1811.12907 ; https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07867-z

~The Age of Big Data

To truly understand what is big data and why it has become such a big deal in today’s day and age of scientific understanding we need to fathom the vast amount of research that is conducted

every day around the globe. Data management has been a big undertaking for most corporations. Be it biological research or pharma, physical and chemical sciences or even economics, arts and finance; there is a plethora of information and data sets out there for mining. Needless to say data storage is becoming a vital component of the process of data mining and more organizations are looking to data engineers with the right database skills to achieve coherence in data management. Effective cloud storage will continue to be the norm and we would most likely see a surge in cloud services for 2019. Combined with machine learning strategies it is very plausible that we shall see laws which may emerge in connection to data governance. The EU has already implemented such laws and outlined financial consequences for lack of data governance but such laws are yet to be implemented in the United States. However, companies in the US do abide by similar data mandates from various countries and states. In addition, data security has also become a concern in addition to the large amounts of data being handled, generated and shared across organizations. There will also be a continuing demand for data analysts with soft skills in R, Python, SQL, Java as well as C, C++. Here are some cool tools in case you are interested in investing in (deep) machine learning – TensorFlow, MXNet, PyTorch, Keras, Caffe

~Gene Editing and Designer Babies

It is fairly a good assumption that a large majority of the scientific community have read or heard the startling news that a researcher in China at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen has proclaimed that he used gene editing to experimentally modifying a human baby or babies. The researcher by the name of He Jiankui has stated that he modified embyos for as many as seven couples in China for fertility treatments and one of which resulted in a pregnancy. Via his radical alterations in the embryo’s genome he claims that his intent was not to cure or prevent a possible inherited disease but to transmit a trait and specifically a trait to resist possible future infections with HIV. As how much science fiction-y it sounds this probably did happen that Dr. Jiankui did tamper with the baby’s genome but did he truly make an HIV resistant human being via current gene editing technologies. He has suggested that he deleted the CCR5 gene which is definitely one of major factors in HIV infection but is not the only factor exclusively responsible for HIV infections. Any off target effects from CCR5 deletion are also of concern and probably worth considering. Although there is no proof that this actually happened or there were gene editing the newborns. What’s interesting is that as Chinese science keeps coming under scrutiny due to lacking regulations and scant directives on clinical trials what do we have store for CRISPR Cas9 and gene editing for 2019? Its definitely going to be an interesting topic for the years to come.

~3D printing human organs

Graft rejection has been major impediment in healthcare and quite recently some major strides were made in understanding how medical science can get past this overarching problem. Ever since biomedical research has focused on construction of artificial human organs the question has remained that how if at all can one make it a feasible reality to grow these in time for a critical patient to actually use it. Researchers at a startup called Prellis at MBC Biolabs, which is an incubator for biotech startups in San Francisco, have been working on making 3D printed human organs into a reality. Here at Prellis, they work on an incredibly vital aspect of artificial human organ development – making functional capillaries. The company has even released a youtube video showing how they have reached a record speed for 3D printing human tissue. Accomplishing appropriate and adequate microvasculature is fundamental for scaffolding and first step in achieving higher order organization in organ architecture. The company has also provided literature which shows that we maybe within five years of the first delivery of 3D printed organs to the market. This has certainly come out from being a niche market to becoming an avenue where more and more companies and start ups are investing upon. While in concept the idea of 3D printing human organs for transplants and more sounded like a next-gen solution with a lot of promise it was not as straightforward in practice as it sounded in concept. From persistent oxygen supply to nutrient requirements there are several factors which if slightly perturbed would mean death for the cells. In this regard Prellis has made high resolution and speed a critical factor in production which overall has made this process set to become a reality in the near future. Several sources have also predicted that 3D printing in general (human organs or other applications) are set to grow at an exponential rate and reach $10 billion by 2020 and if current trends are any indication, we should keep an eye out for a new era in emergent healthcare.

~ A Manhattan Project for Climate Change

Finally no article is complete without a hope for the future and our impact on the earth’s climate and our carbon footprint is certainly a talking matter for several scientists, policy makers and companies. As the current rate of decline in climate conditions quickens and brings worse weather every year it beckons the question how such a big issue can be dealt with by the human civilization. Atomic scientists have already realigned the doomsday clock to 2 minutes to midnight. A symbolic clock so to say which gives an estimate of the likelihood of nuclear war has a lot of connections to climate change which can precipitate water shortage, food scarcity and many more deleterious scenarios. In this regard atmospheric scientist – Katherine Hayhoe put it best by saying “I would hope the world would suddenly ramp up its carbon reduction to the scale of a Manhattan Project or a moon race.” Definitely there are a lot of players in this war against climate change who have stepped up their game. Solar power farm, recycling, electric vehicles and many more ground breaking developments have only meant that human beings have become aware of this impending doom. We truly believe that we can fight climate change and various technologies such as compostable plastics, vegetarian meat, carbon negative concrete, e-paper are already showing us the way towards reducing our carbon footprints. The path towards bringing the clock back may not be an easy one but it certainly is not an impossible one.

Related Articles -

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07847-3


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