2015 has been very kind to science, with numerous advances made in fields such as space research, cancer treatment, environment and biodiversity, and engineering.

But which developments this year prove to be real game-changers?

Here are some scientific discoveries that shook the world – not just hardcore science lovers – in 2015.

  • Bowhead whale genome – A UK-based study made in collaboration with scientists from the U.S., Ireland, Denmark, Spain, and South Korea mapped the genome of the longest-living mammal and identified genes linked to DNA damage repair, cancer resistance, and increased level of longevity. Could this be the key to a longer human life?
  • Water on Mars – This year, Earth’s space mission discovered that nearly half of the planet’s northern hemisphere was once covered by a massive ocean holding 20 million cubic kilometers of water, or more than what the Arctic Ocean has. This strengthened the possibility of alien life and debunked previous beliefs about Mars.
  • Paralyzed male walks again – A 26-year-old man who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury was given the chance to walk again, with scientists rerouting brain waves to electrodes on his knees. The scientists said he was the first patient of paraplegia from a spinal injury to walk without dependence on manually manipulated robotic limbs. “[E]ven after years of paralysis, the brain can still generate robust brain waves that can be harnessed to enable basic walking,” one of the lead doctors explained.
  • Virtual reality enhances healthcare – Polish cardiologists employed virtual reality in restoring blood flow to a blocked artery, signaling revolutionary changes in surgery, training, and various aspects of healthcare. The attending doctor used wearable VR equipment akin to the Google Glass to perform the tough operation.
  • Puppies born via IVF – Following several failed attempts, Cornell University experts successfully produced the first puppies born through IVF. This paved the way for probing conservation and protection of endangered and risk-prone ones.
  • Brain control for mice – University of North Caroline and National Institute of Health researchers stumbled upon a way to manipulate mice behavior, turn neurons on and off, and control hunger and activity rate. It could usher in more information into how scientists can better target brain circuits for treating human illness.

Science, however, is a work in progress. There are fields where major breakthroughs could yield massive rewards and transform the world and its ways.

One area is space exploration, including the NASA New Horizons mission to Pluto, as well as a better understanding of dark matter and dark energy making up the majority of the universe.

Quantum computing is another promising arena, with technologies that could “dwarf today’s supercomputers” and introduce new ways to measure phenomena such as electricity, time, and magnetism at unforeseen accuracy. Quantum computing started in the U.S., but Canada, China, and Switzerland also have research in the works.

Infectious disease treatment is also deemed a critical area, given the Ebola epidemic and the threat of a highly contagious flu. Antibiotics are also fast losing their effectiveness, with a new gene making bacteria resistant to all antibiotics found in China back in November.

Advances and futuristic approaches to defense technology, photonics, materials science, and robotics were also seen in 2015, with further headways expected to be developed in the coming years.

Photo: EpSos.de | Flickr

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