News

Discovery of Pre-Human Fossil Cited as Breakthrough of the Year

Others include water on the Moon, gene therapy

Discovery of Pre-Human Fossil Cited as Breakthrough of the Year
Discovery of Pre-Human Fossil Cited as Breakthrough of the Year

Multimedia

Audio
Art Chimes

The prestigious journal Science is out with its top 10 breakthroughs of 2009. They include developments in anthropology, astronomy, and biology.

The breakthrough of the year was 15 years in coming. That's how long it took for an international team of scientists to excavate and analyze the fossilized skeleton of a 4.4 million year old human ancestor, Ardipithecus ramidus, which was discovered in Ethiopia. Science magazine deputy news editor Robert Coontz said "Ardi," as the creature was nicknamed, was especially surprising to scientists because of how she walked.
 
"The main thing was that it walked upright, just as we do. But what's unexpected about that is that our closest evolutionary relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas, don't do that. And so there was an assumption that our common ancestor with them would have been something that also walked that way. And it turns out that, no, Ardipithecus was designed for walking in trees or climbing trees."

Several of Science magazine's notable breakthroughs of the past year focused on astronomy and space. The journal cited the astronauts' service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, which gave the orbiting observatory a new lease on life. And editor Robert Coontz says the top 10 breakthroughs also included the discovery of water on the moon by the LCROSS mission.

"The poles of the moon have dark craters that never see. So if any ice were to wind up there, it really wouldn't go anywhere. So this year NASA sent up a spacecraft and sent the rocket stage right into the moon to 'bomb' the moon, basically, and see what came up. And they looked at it with a spectrometer and they found that the molecules that were coming up included water."

In the life sciences, the journal's editors noted advances in gene therapy — something that has long seemed on the verge of a breakthrough.

"This year, however, there were some very promising clinical results that indicate that it may be starting to work the way that people always hoped that it would. There was a form of inherited blindness, and some researchers in Britain injected patients with these viruses attached to genes. And it turns out that the patients actually did regain some of their sensitivity to light."

Coontz says some of the children in the study actually regained enough eyesight to be able to play sports normally.

Science magazine reports on these and the rest of its breakthroughs of the year online at ScienceMag.org. You'll have to register, but there's no cost.

At the website you'll also get a hint about areas to watch for breakthroughs in the coming year, including America's human spaceflight program.

"NASA is going to have to decide what it's going to do about the human space program. It will determine the whole direction that the future space program of the United States is going to take, and so that's something that we'll be looking at very closely."

Science magazine editor Robert Coontz says other areas to watch in 2010 include stem cell research and possible new cancer treatments. 
 

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs