A great year for science: these have been the most important scientific discoveries of 2019

Although the investment in scientific research has been drastically reduced in recent, the scientific community continues to fight against the scarcity of resources to achieve advances in numerous fields.

The great effort made by scientists around the world is bearing fruit. Only this year have great advances been made in very diverse fields, such as biology, astronomy or medicine, and discoveries have been made that will help us better understand the origin of life in our universe.

Therefore, as every year the journal Science has made a report to commemorate some of the most important scientific advances of the year 2019. And as a highlight, in many of them, the key factor to achieve the objectives has been the collaboration between scientists of different countries, demonstrating that union and not competition is what allows the scientific community to achieve its greatest discoveries.

For Science, the biggest milestone in science this year has been the development of the first image of a black hole. Combining radio telescope observations from around the world, a group of astronomers managed to generate the first image of the black hole in the center of the Messier 87 galaxy, 53 million light-years from Earth.

Among the observatories that have collaborated in the project is the IRAM Pico Veleta Observatory, located in the Sierra Nevada (Granada), which has a 30-meter diameter radio telescope. Science believes that the project to obtain images of the black hole is of special relevance because of its impact on our understanding of the cosmos and because it is a great example of what international scientific collaboration can achieve.

Following in the field of astronomy, another remarkable discovery is related to something much closer to our planet. The probes NASA ‘s New Horizons captured images of an icy object moving around the confines of the solar system.

This object, which they have called Arrokoth, is more than a thousand kilometers away from Pluto and has a rather curious shape as two pancakes joined together. Scientists believe that it has not undergone any changes since the formation of the solar system, so it contains very important information on how the planets that orbit our Sun were formed.

In the technological field, several relevant advances have also been achieved. We had already seen several examples of how artificial intelligence managed to defeat even renowned professionals from two-player games such as Go and chess.

But this year it has reached a little further, and an AI called Pluribus has defeated numerous professional players in thousands of Texas Hold’em Poker games (a much more complex version of Common Poker). This shows that artificial intelligence is improving its learning processes little by little, which would contribute to the creation of much more complex artificial intelligence technology in the future.

It has also been possible to create a rudimentary quantum computer whose capabilities far exceed that of any supercomputer. The scientists in charge of the project affirm that their device was able to carry out in just 200 seconds a calculation that can freeze even the most powerful supercomputers, due to the data overload it implies.

This is known as quantum supremacy and is an important achievement for the development of complex quantum computers.

Medicine has not been left behind either, as several discoveries have been made that could save many lives and help the most disadvantaged. Among the most notable studies are those related to malnutrition in childhood, something that unfortunately is increasingly common due to high levels of child poverty worldwide.

Studies show that children who suffer from severe malnutrition have great difficulties recovering, and often fail to do so completely and suffer sequelae throughout their lives. This is because the microorganisms of your digestive system, necessary for proper digestion of nutrients, fail to mature properly.

Based on these results, several research groups have developed nutritional supplements to facilitate the adequate recovery of the intestinal flora of these children, which would allow them to recover properly even in the most severe cases.

Great advances have also been made in the study of Ebola, a virus that has continued to cause problems for scientists around the world for several years. In 2019, during the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two different medicines helped dramatically increase the chances of disease survival, which brings us one step closer to a definitive cure for this dangerous disease.

Another striking advance has been in the study of cystic fibrosis, a degenerative disease that seriously worsens the quality of life of affected people, even becoming lethal. But a combination of drugs developed in the US could make fibrosis a much milder chronic disease.

The compound developed cancels the effects of a genetic mutation that is present in 90% of patients with cystic fibrosis, which would allow virtually all people suffering from this disease to improve their quality of life.

Exoplanet with satellites and galaxy

Some of what we have also witnessed is how the scientific community focused on studying the origins and evolution of life. For example, microbiology has managed to get us a little closer to understanding how life formed on planet Earth.

A group of scientists has successfully cultivated a unicellular microorganism called Asgard archaea, which is closely related to eukaryotic cells (to which we owe the origin of multicellular organisms). This would allow study more accurately the origins of life on our planet, and the possible life forms that could be found outside the Earth.

Underground rock samples have also been extracted in the Chicxulub crater, a place of the possible impact of the asteroid that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Accompanied by studies that reveal how the impact destroyed life forms that were thousands of miles away, the samples allow a detailed chronicle of the extinction event.

Other research regarding the past of life on Earth has focused on Denisovans, a kind of hominid related to Neanderthals. Until now we knew very little about them since we only had some bone fossils found in a Siberian cave. But this does not imply that they are irrelevant to human evolution since today we can find markers of their DNA in our genes, especially in the population of Oceania.

This year a group of researchers used a new analysis technique to identify a piece of the jaw that had been found on the Tibetan plateau, confirming that it belonged to the Denisovan species. This is the first physical remainder of this hominid species found outside of Siberia, noting that they traveled more than we assumed so far.

Thanks to the previous study, another group of researchers used the genetic information obtained from the fossils of the Denisovans to reconstruct the face of a girl of this species, thus showing for the first time the appearance of these very mysterious ancestors.

In short, 2019 has been an important year for science. Now we can only wait to see what discoveries surprise us in 2024.