A Toast to the Science of 2013

celebrating science 2013The last weeks have seen the publication of the traditional lists and retrospectives summing up the key events and influential people of 2013—we have the “Person of the Year”, the top news stories of the year, the best songs of the year, and so on. Many of the major science publishers have also compiled their perspectives on the top science news stories of 2013. So what were the most memorable science stories of the year?

Here are a few of the “top ten” listings:

And the Top Life Science Stories Are… (by frequency of list mentions)

Three life science technologies that are recurring themes throughout these lists are CRISPR genome editing technology, the growth of organs from cloned stem cells, and CLARITY imaging technology.

CRISPR technology provides a way to cut DNA very specifically using the bacterial protein Cas9, linked up to a target-specific RNA. In the past year this technology was used by many groups to perform gene editing in a variety of species, giving hope that it may eventually enable specific genome editing to remove deleterious sequences from human DNA. Read more about CRISPR here.

Growth of mini-organs from cloned stem cells is another topic appearing on more than one top ten list, based on 2013 breakthroughs including generation of liver buds and brain “organoids” using reprogrammed skin cells. Read more about this here.

CLARITY, a way of rendering the brain transparent and allowing visualization of neural connections, also appears on more than one list. You can read about CLARITY here.

Science has chosen Cancer Immunotherapy as their breakthrough of the year and published a top ten list of runners up that features, among others, CRISPR technology, growth of organs from stem cells, design of a new RSV immunogen based on structural analysis of an anti-RSV antibody, and microbiome studies showing how our colonizing microbes influence health and disease.

Nature’s list focuses on “Ten People who Mattered this Year” and features, among others, Feng Zhang of MIT for his work showing that CRISPR technology works in eukaryotic cells, and Hualen Chen, for her work helping to identify the source of an H7N9 avian flu outbreak in China, and helping to curtail it’s spread.

Discover Magazine and Wired Science each published a list of top 10 science stories of the year. Life science stories among their highlights include the oldest genome sequenced so far—an 800,000 year-old horse, the supreme court ruling that genes are not patentable, research suggesting that mice pass fearful memories to offspring, and (once again) CRISPR and making organs from stem cells.

These Science Stories of 2013 may be a somewhat arbitrary collection representing the personal preference of editors, some may deliver on their initial promise, others may not. I think these lists provide a fascinating snapshot of just a few of the ways in which the scientific community had a major impact on the year. Here’s to the science of 2014!

For a little light relief, you might also enjoy the Scientific American list: The 13 most Obvious Scientific Findings of 2013, and why people bothered.

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Isobel Maciver

Isobel is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and of Aston University in Birmingham, U.K. She is a technical writer and editor, and is also manager of the Scientific Communications group at Promega. She enjoys writing about issues in science and communication.

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