Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko and landing on it, treatment of diabetes mellitus, Saturn's moon Enceladus and the ocean on it, the elixir of youth and much more - the most important scientific achievements of 2014
Leading scientific publications agree that the hotly debated landing of the Philae probe on the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet has become the most significant achievement of the year.
Recall that the Rosetta mission of the European Space Agency was launched back in 2004, and in 2014, that is, after 10 years of flight, it finally arrived at its final destination - comet 67R / Churyumov-Gerasimenko, located at 400 million km from the Earth.
Landing on the comet of the Philae probe was not without some problems (the liquid nitrogen engine and the ice-anchored harpoons did not work), nevertheless, the probe nevertheless got caught.
Scientists were able to take color photographs of Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and most importantly - to measure the isotopic composition of water. The latter made it possible to draw a truly sensational conclusion: the long-period comets of the Jupiter family from the Kuiper belt, most likely, are not a source of Earth's water. This means that the theory that water was brought to our planet by comets is probably wrong. But such theories also have the asteroids of the inner solar system, which could nevertheless become a source of Earth's water. If it ever turns out that this is not so, scientists will most likely have to admit that water on Earth was originally, from the very moment of its inception.
All organisms living on our planet use the same genetic code, which consists of the letters A, T, G and C, denoting nitrogenous bases. Combinations of these "letters" determine the synthesis of twenty amino acids - the building blocks of proteins. This year, scientists from the Scripps Institute added two more letters to the genetic alphabet - X and Y.
Thus, combinations of these letters will now make it possible to synthesize not 20, but 172 amino acids for building proteins. Moreover, scientists have already managed to create (!) Bacteria with such an extended genetic code. So far, however, these bacteria are not capable of multiplying, but there is no need to talk about what unprecedented prospects may promise further research in this area: this is probably the creation of new microorganisms and the treatment of incurable diseases.
The search for water on other planets (or their satellites), especially in a liquid state, is one of the most important goals of all kinds of space missions. This is understandable, because the presence of liquid water may suggest the presence of extraterrestrial life.
Scientists, as you know, have long suspected that there is an underglacial ocean on Saturn's moon Enceladus (just like on Jupiter's moon Europa). But it was in this year that the results of the gravity survey data processing made by the Cassini apparatus from 2010 to 2012 were published. Thanks to them, scientists were able to unequivocally declare: under the thickness (30-40 km) of the Enceladus ice there is a salty ocean of liquid water.
Later, a similar ocean was discovered on another satellite of Saturn - Titan, but the water in it is so salty that scientists doubt that at least something living can survive there. But in the water depths of Enceladus, according to the researchers, at least bacteria - in fact, aliens - may well live.
The elixir of youth has been sought not only for a long time, but also constantly. Many philosophers and alchemists have long believed that blood plays an important role here.And they were not so far from the truth - this year, Stanford University experts found that "young" blood really matters a lot.
Their experiments showed that when the plasma of young mice was transfused into old mice, the latter significantly improved their memory and learning ability. True, scientists still do not know what kind of plasma substance has such a beneficial effect on "aged" mice, but certain features of the experimental results allow us to draw a preliminary conclusion: apparently, this is some kind of protein.
Of course, there is no talk of any experiments on humans yet, but with favorable results, the Stanford researchers' approach may become a real medicine that can prolong a person's intellectual life, forever ending the manifestations of age-related dementia.
Diabetes mellitus treatment
Patients with diabetes mellitus make up a truly gigantic figure, if we talk about it on a global scale - today it is about 350 million people. About 10% of them are sick with type I diabetes mellitus - mostly adolescents and very young people (the peak incidence occurs at the age of 10-15 years). The causes of this autoimmune disease are still not clearly known, so often the diagnosis of type I diabetes mellitus at one time meant a death sentence, which was "carried out" not immediately, but inevitably.
After the advent of genetically engineered insulin, the life of such people is almost no different from the life of the rest of mankind, except that patients with type I diabetes are forced to carry insulin with them everywhere and do daily injections. But this year, experts from Harvard managed to grow beta cells from human embryonic stem cells that are capable of producing insulin. Before developing the technology for introducing such a scheme into the human body, additional research is needed, however, when they are completed, all type I diabetics may have a chance to get rid of their disease forever.
Super powerful computers
In 2014, several groups of scientists simultaneously created computer chips that are likely to bring about a new technical revolution.
These are researchers from Stanford University who created the Neurocore chip, a group from the University of Heidelberg with the HICANN chip, and researchers from IBM Research - the TrueNorth chip. All these creations, like our brains, are equipped with many "neurons" and "synapses", therefore they are able to show stunning results with the same staggeringly low power consumption (chips created before that could perform extremely complex tasks, however, the energy they consumed while doing this, was thousands of times higher than the energy consumption used by the human brain for similar tasks).
Basically, these tasks include those for which the right hemisphere of our brain is responsible - processing sensory signals from numerous sensors and pattern recognition. Note that ordinary computers successfully cope with the tasks of the left hemisphere (responsible for analytical thinking).
Using optogenetic methods (optogenetics is a very young and extremely promising method of biological research), researchers from the University of California, for the first time, were able to completely erase from memory the conditioned reflex of a rat, which was previously created in it with the help of an electric shock.
But this is not enough - after the carried out "formatting" the scientists managed to record the same reflex in the brain of the unfortunate rat. Of course, there is no talk of such manipulations with memory in relation to a person, but who knows - maybe someday the movies "Total Recall" or "Men in Black" will not seem fiction to us at all.
Are the robots attacking?
We have already mentioned computers that have been made much smarter with less power consumption. But the robots have also grown wiser.This year, software was created that allows robots to interact with each other without any human control. Thousands of robots the size of a five-kopeck coin were able to independently form into letters, primitive shapes, and other elements.
Many believe that all of this could be the first step in the implementation and plot of the film "Terminator".
The oldest painting
In an Indonesian cave on the island of Sulawesi, probably the oldest rock art of all times and peoples was found. Some of these works of prehistoric "art" may be as old as 40,000 years old.
On the walls of the cave you can find images of wild ungulates and stencils of hands.
Such an ancient find is not just an amazing fact, it is capable of changing the view on the development of all human art in general, and hence the formation of a person as such - the development of his intellect, civilization and morality.
This virus with a length of 1.5 microns (comparable in size to some bacteria) was discovered in the Siberian permafrost by French and Russian scientists in March this year. Such viruses are not a sensation, scientists have already found large viruses, but such a giant has been found for the first time. The virus, named Pithovirus sibericum, is no less than 30,000 years old.
The most interesting thing is that the virus was revived. However, one should not be afraid - experts assure that the virus is capable of infecting only amoebas.