One of the most exciting developments in 2004 was progress toward a malaria vaccine. While not perfect, Spanish researchers are encouraged by the results of a trial in Mozambique involving 2000 children. Six months after receiving the candidate vaccine, one third of the children remained free of the mosquito-borne illness.
In the United States, researchers continue work on a better and safer vaccine against smallpox, which bioterrorism officials fear could be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Scientists have also discovered a compound that's been shown to be a 100 percent effective in protecting monkeys against the ebola virus, another lethal biological agent that could potentially be used by terrorists.
In addition, scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health are making progress in the development of a vaccine against an avian flu that international public health officials worry could become a deadly pandemic.
And then there's HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, which has already infected millions of people around the globe.
Anthony Fauci is head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci says progress in one area of vaccine research could lead to breakthroughs in other areas.
"As well as the Holy Grail of our research left with HIV is to develop an HIV vaccine,” he said. “I don't think you're going to see that at all in 2005, but hopefully we'll be closer to that goal as we get into 2005."
For Nobel laureate and California Institute of Technology president David Baltimore, the most pressing issue of our time is energy. Dr. Baltimore, who won the Nobel prize for medicine, says oil dependent countries, including the United States, have to find other energy sources because oil supplies are limited and the U.S. and others are beholden to oil rich nations.
Dr. Baltimore, who has devoted his career to biological science, says technologists need to focus more attention on alternative energy sources, including wind power and safer forms of nuclear energy, and pay less attention to medical research.
"I'm in a sense less worried about that and more worried about the energy issues because I can see them dominating our concerns over the next couple of decades even as our ability to deal with health issues improves; cancer, heart disease, neurologic disease,” he noted. “And so we'll have this sort of paradox of being healthier as individuals and yet worried on a more global scale about what's going to happen in the energy area."
Astronomers hope to learn more in 2005 about Earth's planetary neighbors. This past year, space scientists were awed by data returned by two Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, suggesting that water once flowed on the red planet, a condition favorable for the existence of life. Also, after years of travel to Saturn, the Cassini space probe brought into sharp focus the rings that surround our galaxy's second largest planet.
There was also disaster. The unmanned Genesis solar space capsule crashed upon landing in Utah. Scientists recovered as much solar material as they could for study.
A privately funded spacecraft known as SpaceShipOne, became the first to climb more than 115 kilometers into outer space to claim the X Foundation's $10 million prize. SpaceShipOne's developer and others are expected to continue their quest for private space travel in 2005.
Embryonic stem cell research will continue to be a hot topic in the United States, as politicians and scientists argue whether cells from human embryos should be grown into other tissue to treat disease. All agree that human cloning is unethical, but what about the copying of cats?
As the year came to a close there was news of the world's first cloned-to-order kitten. A Texas woman paid $50,000 to have researchers create a copy of her 17-year-old feline that died last year. The kitten was made from DNA taken from its predecessor. According to the woman, the kitten is identical to the cat she lost.