Thursday, January 21, 2021

20 things that made the world a better place in 2020

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It is not a year to which we will look back with fondness. It started with Australia on fire and ends with more than 1.5 million deaths in a pandemic. But there were some bright spots in this annus horribilis. While many of us have saved lives by crouching at home watching Netflix, a community act of selflessness that should not be forgotten anytime soon, advancements have been made in the fields of science, education, and entertainment. environment and even politics – Biden won! We can buy lab meat! British beavers built a dam for the first time in 400 years! Here’s our look at the best news to come out of 2020.

World’s first mRNA vaccine manufactured in less than a year

Global scientists in medicine and pharmacy have never made a vaccine as quickly as this year – and we’ve got three on the market, with more to come. But the BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will not only get us out of lockdown, they are also the first to use messenger RNA, proving that vaccine technology works. This not only opens the door to its use against existing diseases, but it also means that we could make vaccines faster to fight future pandemics – because we may have to start over someday. Read more on WIRED.

Laboratory meat is on sale for the first time

The era of protein slaughter may be coming to an end, with the Singapore Food Agency approving the sale of lab-grown chicken for the first time. Manufactured by the American company Eat Just, the cells for “chicken bites” are harvested from live animals and cultured in a bioreactor. Although fetal bovine serum is still used in the process, the company plans to switch to a plant-based growing medium for its next production line. Read more on The Guardian.

DeepMind Solves 50-Year-Old Protein Folding Problem

DeepMind’s AI accurately predicted protein shapes from their sequences alone, a difficult task that normally requires time-consuming and expensive laboratory experiments. Although AI, known as AlphaFold, cannot detect all protein structures, it has helped answer questions that have long challenged researchers and could herald major changes in medical research. Read more on Nature.

Nuclear fusion could provide us with unlimited clean energy

Researchers are building a star on Earth with the aim of creating nuclear energy without the radioactive waste. The Joint European Torus (JET) will begin work next year, breaking down hydrogen atoms together to generate energy and heat, which could eventually be harvested to generate electricity. Read more on WIRED UK.

Kiwis provide remarkable land for a nation

Dill and Jillian Jardine could have sold their 900 hectares along the shore of Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand’s Remarkables mountain range to developers. After all, the area is popular with the remarkably wealthy, including PayPal and Palantir founder Peter Thiel. Instead, the farming couple donated it to a local trust as a park for the enjoyment of everyone, not just billionaires. Read more on The Guardian.

British beavers build a dam for the first time in four centuries

The National Trust released beavers into the wild in January, after the extinction of horse-toothed creatures in England 400 years ago. Efforts to bring the animals back were successful with beavers in Scotland being transferred to the Holnicote estate in Exmoor, where they settled down well enough to chew on a few trees and put together a “modest but … incredibly special” dam. , according to the Trust. Learn more about the BBC.

A species of spider is rediscovered

Mike Waite of the Surrey Wildlife Trust spent two years in the dark surveying a Department of Defense site, looking for a specific species of spider not seen in the UK since 1999. But in October, he l ‘spotted: a large fox spider. “It’s a beautiful spider, if you like that sort of thing,” he says. The 2-inch creature doesn’t build a web, preferring to hunt beetles and smaller arachnids and immobilize them with venom that liquefies their organs. How very 2020. Learn more about The Guardian.

First new coral reef discovered in 120 years

Scientists mapping the seabed north of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have made a massive discovery: a new reef taller than the Empire State Building. This is the first such coral structure to be found in the region in 120 years, and aided by an underwater robot, the year-long exploration trip also uncovered 30 new species of marine life, including a 150-foot-long, predatory wire-like creature – yes, that’s right – known as the siphonophore. Learn more about the BBC.

Pandas have sex after a decade of waiting

When the pandemic struck, Hong Kong’s Ocean Park Zoo closed its doors to visitors. Several weeks later, perhaps enjoying their newfound privacy, pandas Ying Ying and Le Le did something that zookeepers had been trying to inspire for 10 long years: they had sex. Mating doesn’t appear to have resulted in pregnancy for Ling Ling, but doing so after 10 years of ignorance is encouraging for those with long-term stale relationships everywhere. Read more on Vice.

There is a baby boom for elephants

Amboseli National Park in Kenya reported more than 170 calves at the end of summer, up from 113 in 2018, including two pairs of twins. The pachyderm’s peak pregnancy follows heavy rains the previous year, which means better grazing and more successful births. Along with the baby boom, Kenya said the poaching rate fell to just seven for the year (in August) – down from 80 in 2018 – with the country’s total elephant population rising from 16,000 in 1989 to over from 34000. Read more on NPR.

Turbine blade painting reduces bird deaths

The switch to wind power is good news for the planet, but bad news for the birds that fly in the turbine blades of onshore wind farms. Researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research have found a potential solution – painting one of the three rotor blades black to make them more visible. And it worked, reducing bird strikes by 70 percent – not bad for a lick of paint. Read more on Ars Technica.

UK charcoal-free race record tops 67 days

67 days, 22 hours and 55 minutes – this is the longest period the UK has been without coal-fired electricity since the Industrial Revolution. The record-breaking race ended in mid-June only because a North Yorkshire power station set a coal unit on fire for maintenance. The rest of the energy mix in the two months and over was dominated by renewables at 36%, followed by gas at 33% and nuclear at 21%. Read more on The independent.

The enzyme eats through plastics

Plastic waste is choking the planet, but researchers at the University of Toulouse have found a mutant bacterial enzyme that will happily chew on everything, breaking it down for easy recycling into new plastics. The enzyme was originally discovered in a compost heap of leaves, although it had to be fine-tuned to optimize its ability to break down plastic. The mutated version managed to degrade a ton of plastic waste in 10 hours. Learn more about WIRED.

SpaceX first launched with humans

Elon Musk’s SpaceX began the era of commercial spaceflight by successfully launching a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon capsule and two NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 rocket has carried cargo into orbit before, but this trip marks the first private space launch with humans on board – and the start of private spaceflight, including tourism. Read more on WIRED.

Porn begins to consider ethics

Pornhub removed two-thirds of the videos from its site (around 10 million clips) after an investigation by The New York Times revealed that some of the clips users upload featured children and other abuse, prompting Visa and Mastercard to halt payment processing. From now on, the site will only allow verified users to upload videos, perhaps finally kicking off an era of ethics in mainstream porn sites. Read more on Motherboard.

The United Kingdom obtains its first technological union

United Tech and Allied Workers established a UK branch in the middle activism in the sector in the United States, with clutch at Facebook, Google, and Amazon. The goal is to give workers more power to hold their employers accountable without having to quit and find another job, which is not easy during a pandemic. Read more on WIRED UK.

Artistic sculpture saves a train conductor

Public transport met public art in a dramatic and saving way when a Rotterdam metro train crashed through buffers at the end of the elevated line in the Dutch city. The driver’s car was rescued from falling 10 meters to the ground by a public art installation by Maarten Struijs, supported by one of the two whale tails. Struijs called the accident “rather poetic”, and he is not wrong: the name of the work is Saved by a whalestale. Learn more about The temperature.

Kamala Harris becomes first female vice president

The United States has their vice president, and she is a woman of color known to her stepchildren as “Momala.” In a year of difficult politics and against a background of racial tension, the United States managed to take a big step forward by electing Kamala harris as the first female vice-president. Read more just about anywhere, but start with The New York Times.

Argentina to legalize abortion

Abortion remains illegal in much of South America, but Argentina is fast becoming the first major country and only the fourth on the continent to grant women the right to choose. It follows the lead of Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana, although UN research suggests more than 6 million abortions still occur in the region each year, the majority of which are unsafe. for women. The bill still has to be approved by the Senate later in December. Read more on The Guardian.

Endurance runner carries disabled friend to the top of Mount Olympus

Eleftheria Tosiou always wanted to climb Mount Olympus, Greece’s highest peak. The wheelchair student reached the goal with the help of her friend, long-distance endurance runner Marios Giannakou, who climbed the 2,917-meter mountain with Tosiou strapped to her back. “I have never done anything more beautiful,” said Giannakou. “I think it completed me as a person.” Read more on Reuters.

This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.


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