HeathcareScience highlights in 2021: gene editing and anti-science among...

Science highlights in 2021: gene editing and anti-science among the highlights in the year that leaves us

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In last week’s page we saw some of the scientific breakthroughs and discoveries most important of the year, mainly in archeology, astronomy, medicine and in the fight against climate change. Today we will continue with that important list.

Cornerstones

One of the most important advances of this century, and whose application could drastically change many aspects of our lives, is the three-dimensional reproduction of the structure of proteins.

Let’s start by explaining that

Our blood, including hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body; the brain, where gray matter and neurons are in charge of neurological processes; and muscles, which move us, are just a few examples of tissues built with protein. Understanding the structures that form them allows us to understand how they work, fail, and how they can be repaired.

“For the first time, laboratory-cloned antibodies were used successfully to fight infections in patients.”

The modeling of the structure of proteins has existed since 1957, when Max Perutz and John Kendrew determined the molecular structure of hemoglobin with X-ray crystallography. Shortly afterwards, the sequence of amino acids that make up proteins was determined, which allowed their structures to be predicted. .

However, these models were extremely time consuming to model, reproduce and synthesize proteins. After half a century, some simple proteins had just been synthesized.

It was . With supercomputers, structures of all kinds of proteins have been detailed. The research possibilities and discoveries this will allow for decades to come are global in scope.

Biological programs

On previous occasions we have discussed CRISPR, a technique for editing genetic material that caused controversy when a Chinese scientist tried to improve embryos. This methodology and its responsible use have advanced, and this year it was used successfully to reprogram organ cells in living people.

The revolutionary technique was put to the test, where liver tissues produced a toxin that caused severe damage. Liver toxin production dropped dramatically.

Another successful test was in people with blindness, caused by a congenital condition in which the tissues of the eye do not produce a protein essential for vision. Injections with a virus carrying RNA instructed the cells they infected to produce the crucial protein. After a few months, some patients began to detect light contrasts.

On Earth and on Mars

Other extraordinary achievements of the year are also linked to genetics. For the first time, laboratory cloned antibodies were used successfully to fight infections in patients. These monoclonal antibodies had previously been applied to treat some cancers and autoimmune diseases. Although their cost and complex conditions to administer them limit their use, it is expected to simplify, lower the price and diversify their use.

Advances in genetics also allowed advances in anthropology. The techniques of extraction and analysis of genetic material have advanced a lot, allowing to read genetic material of Neanderthals and animals that lived in Europe more than 80,000 years ago, which has helped to identify new lines of evolution and expansion.

“Proteins are the building blocks of the tissues and organs of all organisms, including humans.”

On the other hand, . In 2021, our closest neighbor received three exploratory missions that made history.

In February, the United Arab Emirates’ first space probe, Esperanza, entered Martian orbit, which will orbit and study the atmosphere and climate of the red planet. In May, the first Chinese Martian probe, Tianwen-1, arrived with the Zhuron vehicle. It moved across the surface studying, among others, the composition of the soils. And a few months before, the US probe Perseverance, in addition to also carrying out soil studies, released a small helicopter that managed to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere, it was the first flight made on another planet.

This is a graphic representation of the Chinese probe Tianwen 1, which reached Mars in May of this year.  (Photo: China National Space Administration / CNSA)

Anti-science

One of the highlights this year was the surprising rise of anti-science movements. The most prominent has been the anti-vaccine stream, which uses misinformation and social media to exploit the fears, prejudices and ignorance of poorly educated populations about COVID-19 vaccines.

These, carried out globally for decades, unequivocally conclude that the planet is experiencing rapid warming due to our greenhouse gas emissions. In this case, economic interests and political influences are intentionally ignoring the findings, delaying urgently needed actions.

The new year will undoubtedly see more amazing advances in various fields. To put the global economy on a sustainable path and

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