In 2017, researchers turned science fiction into science fact – from developments in gene editing technologies, to improvements in artificial intelligence and quantum computing - this has certainly been a year full of breakthroughs. To that end, we've compiled a list of the most impactful developments this year that are pushing boundaries toward a brighter future.
Lamb-in-a-Bag: An Artificial Womb Sustains Life
It's, perhaps, fitting to open this list with a technology that could potentially save lives in the future. In April 2017, a team of physicians from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia published a study in the journal Nature Communications that detailed the successful use of an artificial womb.
The device, a specialized transparent biobag filled with a fluid that allows it to imitate the environment inside a uterus, successfully housed a 23-week old lamb. This artificial womb can help save the lives of premature babies. The team working on the technology expects it to soon be ready for human use.
Read the original story here.
For the First Time in the U.S., an Embryo Was Edited
Genetically modified human beings are no longer just the topic of science fiction. In July 2017, MIT Technology Review reported on efforts by researchers in Portland, Oregon to genetically modify human embryos using gene editing tool CRISPR. The researchers, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon Health and Science University, edited the DNA of one-cell embryos – effectively demonstrating that it's possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that carry heritable diseases.
For the full story, check out this article.
Gene Editing Inside a Human Body
Without a doubt, CRISPR is the most efficient and effective gene editing tool we have today, but it's not the only one. After numerous experiments that demonstrated what gene editing could do, the technology was finally applied to a living human patient on the 13th of November. A 44-year-old patient suffering from a rare genetic condition called Hunter syndrome had his genome edited using a treatment developed by biotechnology firm Sangamo Therapeutics.
You can check out the full story here.
The LHC's Five New Particles
Now that we've look at some biological advances, let's move on to the realm of quantum physics. The science of the "small" continues to grow, thanks to work done by scientists using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). On March 16, 2017, the LHC discovered a new system of five particles, all in a single analysis.
— CERN (@CERN) March 16, 2017
With overwhelming statistical significance to back it up, the exceptional discovery can't be dismissed as a fluke. Instead, it provides a new window into our understanding of quantum theories that govern both the physics of particles in our world and beyond it.
You can read about the new particles here.
Securing the Future of Quantum Communication
Speaking of quantum theories, 2017 has been a host to some of the biggest developments in quantum technologies to date. Quantum computing, for one, has seen significant advances. Equally important are the breakthroughs in quantum communication, thanks to the efforts of researchers from China and elsewhere to build quantum networks.
Read about what a world powered by quantum computers would be like here.
SpaceX and an Era of Reusable Rockets
When it comes to the future of spaceflight and exploration, SpaceX has become a household name. The rocket company started by Elon Musk in 2002 cemented its hold on rocket technology and space this year, marking a number of "firsts" off of their development checklist.
Chief among these is the successful launch of a previously used Falcon 9 rocket booster, signaling the end of an era of expensive space missions. On the 30th of March 2017, SpaceX showed that their Falcon 9 rockets are reusable not just in name. That, however, was just the beginning. With an updated plan for Mars and a revamped BFR rocket, SpaceX continues to work on making every part of their rockets and spacecraft completely reusable.
Look back to that historic moment here.
TRAPPIST-1 and Finding Earth 2.0
Last but definitely not the least is one of the biggest discoveries that could affect the future of life beyond Earth. In February 2017, scientists working at the European Southern Observatory and NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-like exoplanets situated in the habitable space or "goldilocks zone" of a star system called TRAPPIST-1.
The TRAPPIST system, located some 39.5 light-years from the Sun, hosts an ultra-cool red dwarf star that's only a bit larger — although significantly more massive — than Jupiter. Astronomers continue to debate the potential of these seven TRAPPIST exoplanets to host life, but the discovery of a collection of possibly livable exoplanets in just one system is a promising find in the quest for life outside of Earth.
Read about TRAPPIST-1's discovery here.
Editor's Note: This article was updated to clarify that Sangamo Therapeutics did not use CRISPR.
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