Preesha Dhanwate, Sanshodhan 8 December 2022
2022 was an odd year, a resume switch for the civilization. This year had its fair share of disasters and disruptions (natural and man-made alike), nonetheless several progressive breakthroughs accompanied, from pre-historic findings to novel developments in cellular biology. At the horizon of this relatively normal year, we recount a list of our top 10 picks of discoveries in Science this past year-
10. Ocean by the Earth’s core
A study on ringwoodite found on Earth’s surface led by Graham Pearson established the presence of water-laden materials between Earth’s Mantle back in 2014. This year the independent presence of water was confirmed by a study. Water exists in the transition zone to be precise, between the upper and the lower mantle. This implies the involvement of Earth’s interior in the water cycle. This water reservoir could be three times larger than earth’s oceans, since ringwoodite has the capacity to hold massive amounts of moisture, theoretically the conversion zone can absorb more water than the oceans collectively. The research team of Frankfurt geoscientists analyzed the rare diamond (which held ringwoodite) and found that it was formed 660 kilometres beneath the earth’s surface, in the transition zone. These findings show similarity to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
9. 1.8 million years old human tooth discovered in Georgia
Archaeologists in Georgia found a 1.8 million year old tooth, unlocking new angles of human evolution and settlements. For years Africa was considered to be home to the earliest species of humans but this discovery dating so far back is one of the firsts in a non-African region. This mountainous region, south of Caucus could be one the earliest human settlements outside of Africa. The tooth was found close to Orozmani, a settlement about 100 kilometres southwest of Tbilsi, Georgia’s capital close to Dmanisi, where 1.8 million year old human skulls were uncovered in the late 1990’s. These findings were first anywhere in the world outside Africa and helped understand early human migrations from Africa to the Caucus region. This discovery along with other similar findings out of Africa have led the scientists to believe that the homo erectus started migrating nearly 2 million years ago.
8. Discovery of rare untouched coral reef off the coast of Tahiti
Marine explorers on a research mission supported by UNESCO discovered 3 kilometre stretch of coral reef at 100 feet depth off the coast of Tahiti. The reef is believed to be pristine and unharmed, and one of the largest to be found at 100ft depth. This discovery was made during the SeaBed2030 Project’s diving expedition. Considering coral reefs’ rapid destruction caused by human activities, this discovery is a good news for the south pacific aquatic ecosystem. The finding also points towards the positive possibilities of unexplored aquatic lifeform since coral reefs are believed to be home to 25% marine life. The pristine condition of the reef is credited to the depths at which it is situated, allowing it to conveniently avoid the effects of global warming. This discovery comes along with strong ambitions of the scientists to preserve the reef and further investigate to discover new species around the reef.
7. Multiple deep-sea creatures discovered in the Indian Ocean Scientists and researchers discovered several rare marine creatures around the Cocos Islands, off the coast of Sumatra. Owing to the remote nature of the Indian Ocean, the team was one of the few research expeditions in the area. Invertebrate fishes with distinct characteristics were discovered by the team; Blind Eels, Tripod Fish, Hatchetfish, Dragonfish with bioluminescent organs, deep-sea batfish with pancacke like body and stubby fins, Tribute Spiderfish with stilt-like lower fins. All these creatures had characteristics such as fangs, permanently open mouths and bioluminescence, optimal for survival and preying in high pressure with near absence of light in the depths of the ocean. Scientists also came across ancient shark teeth believed to be from megalodon like creatures. These discoveries are believed to familiarize us with deep sea ecosystem and terrain.
6. Free-floating Black Hole no longer just a theory
Astronomers reported their first ever drifting Black Hole with NASA’s Hubble Telescope around 5,000 light years away. Black Holes were considered to exist at the centre of galaxies, but this discovery proves the theories of Black Holes that are independent of a stellar mass companion true. Observation teams led by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland and University of California at Berkeley declared this observation in June after six years of observation. This Black Hole was observed to be floating in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milkyway galaxy. Having been reported by two separate teams the Black Hole was given two names partly based on the microlensing which was used for identification: MOA-2011-BLG-191 and OGLE-2011-BLG-0462.
5. Resuscitation of organs post-mortem
Back in 2019, a research team at Yale University was able to somewhat re-animate a pig’s brain hours after death. This year one of the members from the team was able slow down the cell-death with the help of a substance called OrganEx. After inducing cardiac arrest in pigs, IV drips containing OrganEx and supersaturated haemoglobin were attached into their circulatory system. OrganEx consists of amino acids, vitamins, metabolites, and a drug cocktail of 13 different compounds which are adjusted to promote cellular health and decrease cellular aging. The liquid along with haemoglobin was pumped through their bodies for around 6 hours with the help of a device built to support circulation without shredding the capillaries. Some animals were left as is, and some were pumped with CO2 free blood as Control. Upon observing under the microscope, organ tissues of animals with OrganEx induced, looked more healthy as opposed to disintegrating tissues of controls. Tissues from brain, heart, liver, and kidneys were examined. These findings hold immense importance in the light of effective organ preservation and improvisation for transplants.
4. Well-preserved fossils discovered indicate ecosystem of prehistoric rainforest
Palaeontologists uncovered nearly 2,000 well preserved fossils in Australia earlier this year. This discovery sheds light on the ecosystem of the pre-historic rainforest in Australia before it turned into a dessert. Ever since 2017, fossils of spiders, cicadas, wasps, flies, fish, flowers, were found at the McGrath flats. Recent finding of fish fossils with their last meals still in their stomachs, insect fossils with pollen dust on them, bugs with well-preserved eyes, and thirteen spider fossils, further illustrate the biodiversity in this region dating millions of years ago. These discoveries provide insight into climate change with a historic context as the fossils are believed to have started forming when the rainforest started drying up 11 to 16 million years ago, much relevant to the current climatic context.
3. Discovery of HD1, the most distant galaxy Astronomers have discovered a galaxy candidate which is the most distant astronomical object. The team from Centre for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian named it HD1. It is located around 13.5 billion lightyears away, said to have formed only 330 million years after the Big Bang. It’s status as a galaxy is still under evaluation owing to how the speed at which it produces stars is substantially different and rapid (10x faster) as compared to other galaxies. This causes the luminosity of HD1 to be rather exaggerated leading the astronomers to suspect a supermassive Black Hole being the cause of the same, if proved to be true it would mean HD1 could be the earliest astronomical object observed that close to the beginning of time. If the calculations are proved correct, they would substantiate the observations, proving HD1 to be the farthest and earliest galaxy ever recorded.
2. Killing of cancer cells without affecting surrounding tissues
Cancer treatment being as agonous as it is, treatment of cancer cells without damage to surrounding tissues has always been desirable. The discovery of the site-specific endonuclease, called CRISPR-Cas9 in 2020 was harnessed by south Korean researchers to develop cancer-specific insertions and deletions attacker (CINDELA) method to induce targeted cancer cell death by simultaneous and multiple DNA double-strand breaks, successfully leaving the surrounding tissue unharmed. They demonstrated this therapeutic method as CINDELA selectively killed human cancer cell lines, xenograft human tumours in mice, patient-derived glioblastoma, and lung patient-driven xenograft tumours without affecting healthy human cells or altering mouse growth. This development also came with fallbacks such as uncertainty in the ability to deliver CRISPR to tumour in mice. Regardless this is a step towards effective cancer treatments without damaging unaffected tissues and preventing spread of cancer to other tissues.
1. Microplastics found in human body
Earlier this year, scientists from the Netherlands and the U.K. announced their finding of nano-plastic particles in living humans, deep inside the lungs of surgical patients, and in the blood of anonymous donors. Back in 2017, microplastics were found in the guts of fish and shellfish which are consumed whole by humans. This discovery in humans should be rather alarming owing to the diverse shapes of microplastics found in human lungs, some particles being as large as 2 millimetres. Despite the distressing discovery there is no conclusive evidence of harm caused by the microplastics produced by the scientists, hence the lack of alarm. Regardless, this discovery must serve as a reminder of the intrusive nature of plastics before it is too late.