Every year the Scientific community amazes us with ground-breaking research and discoveries, the year 2020 was no different. While the year 2020 will always be remembered as a historical watershed moment in the world, due to the havoc caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic resulting in the world’s economic systems reduced to a shadow of its former self, and everything coming to a standstill – the year 2020 has also been a landmark year when it comes to scientific breakthroughs.
Here we look at few of the biggest scientific breakthroughs that happened in the year 2020 that has the potential to change the course of history in this Post-pandemic world:
Advanced Protein Predictors
Back in November 2020, Artificial Intelligence company DeepMind with the use of sheer computational force, crunched the uncrackable problem of encoding DNA protein. Genes are made up of DNA, and DNA is composed of proteins. Proteins generally work in three dimensions folded into clumps. The scientific community for decades had struggled to craft 2D proteins into its 3D functional versions. This is where DeepMind’s AlphaFold Programme last month decisively predicted protein structures.
The work is revolutionary in the sense that it will be much easier now to design drugs, and most importantly, understanding how a protein works – or what goes wrong in a particular disease.
Genome Editing Technology
This year two female scientists - Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A Doudna were awarded the Noble prize in Chemistry for their groundbreaking discovery of the Crispr/Cas9 genome-editing tool. Originally a bacterial immune response, the Crispr/Cas9 genome-editing tool also helps detect and destroy specific genetic sequences transmitted by viruses.
Crispr/Cas9 has the ability to precisely home in on any location in the genome of almost any organism. The technology specifically cuts and modifies the genome for an increasingly diverse range of applications. The versatility and ease of use of this tool made it possible to genetically engineer organisms that had long been inaccessible to the Genetic research community. For instance, Crispr/Cas9 toolbox has already been applied to modify crop plants such as rice and wheat. In addition, the Crispr/Cas9 technology has also found its way into the clinical trials of testing certain human diseases as well. And, most importantly, the Crispr/Cas9 technology has been used to fight immune responses for virus destruction.
Synthetic Lab Grown Meat
By 2050, it has been estimated that the world population will cross the 9 billion mark. This is likely to put enormous pressure on the existing food supplies. Dietary innovations are the need of the hour. One such innovation that has made into the headlines this year is the process of making artificial meat with the help of 3D printing technology. There are not only immense ecological benefits of synthetic lab grown meat, but also Vegans can finally enjoy eating meat – a protein source they had avoided throughout their lives, without having the guilt of killing an innocent animal.
Although still in its infant stages, the adoption of synthetic meat is rapidly gaining popularity. For instance, just last month, Singapore’s food regulatory agency approved the sale of this “cultured” meat, developed by US startup Eat Just.
The first room temperature Superconductor
Ever since electricity was first harnessed, the major scientific pursuit had been the quest for a room temperature superconductor. The wait is finally over as back in October, the first room temperature superconductor was finally designed by a team led by Ranga Dias at the University of Rochester in upstate New York – capitalizing on the previous work done by a group led by Mikhail Eremets at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz.
The visions written by world-renowned historian Yuval Noah Harari back in 2013 is finally upon us. The year 2020 is seen as a breakthrough year in anti-aging research. A drug that reverses aging could finally make it to the market by the beginning of 2021. At the moment, multiple researches on anti-aging properties are being conducted in top Universities from across the globe, which also includes IIT-Guwahati from India.
Leading the research on anti-aging drugs is the University of Wales in Australia in collaboration with the Harvard Medical School in USA. Early experiments on the drug nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) so far has had a dramatic rejuvenating effect on aging mice. NMN boosts levels of NAD+, the oxidized form of the chemical nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, which is naturally present in every cell of the body and helps regulate protein interactions that control DNA repair. The first clinical trials on humans are expected to get underway soon at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.