• Question: what was the most advancing breakthrough

    Asked by Eddiebaxboy on 30 Nov 2023.
    • Photo: Michael Schubert

      Michael Schubert answered on 30 Nov 2023:

      Most of science is small breakthroughs that add up to huge improvements, rather than gigantic breakthroughs that happen all at once. Some of the advances I think have been most important in recent science are:

      – mRNA vaccine technology, which means that vaccines are now faster to make or change (because, as pathogens evolve, our prevention and treatment has to evolve as well); these types of vaccines also have fewer risks for immunocompromised people than some traditional types

      – faster, more accurate genetic sequencing that is also getting cheaper and cheaper, meaning that more people will have access to diagnosis for genetic disorders that we might not have known about only a few years ago

      – AI support for many areas of science, which can help us understand new discoveries, go through large amounts of data very quickly, and spot patterns and subtleties that humans can’t see on their own

      Who knows what the next advance might be!

    • Photo: Martin Minarik

      Martin Minarik answered on 30 Nov 2023: last edited 30 Nov 2023 2:14 pm

      In my field of research, I think the most important breakthrough recently was the discovery of CRISPR genome editing (Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna got the 2020 Nobel Prize for this). It allows us to easily but precisely edit genomes of a huge range of organisms that is growing every year and it’s been absolutely life-changing for people who study the role genes have in development and disease (we could previously do genome editing but it was really expensive and unreliable and only really used in a few species). I myself now use CRISPR on the fish I study, to see what happens if I switch some genes off, and it’s super easy and we learn so much using it! Most importantly, though, it’ll likely have huge impacts on medicine as in the future it can be used for targeted genome editing to repair disease-causing mutations in patients. It’ll also be really important in agriculture to precisely engineer crops to adapt to changing climate and make them more sustainable. Its potential seems almost endless right now, but with that come ethical questions such as the possibility someone can use it to edit human embryos, or release mutations into wild populations etc.

    • Photo: Caroline Hyde

      Caroline Hyde answered on 30 Nov 2023:

      Luckily, there are still new breakthroughs being reported and it will depend on the field of research/study whether individual discoveries are seen as a breakthrough discovery (at that point-in-time or retrospectively). I still find the discovery of DNA in terms of structure and function by Watson/Crick/Franklin in the 1950s a key moment within biology.

    • Photo: Martin Johnsson

      Martin Johnsson answered on 1 Dec 2023:

      Thare are too many interesting things to choose from!

      But one of the big things that really helped my field — animal genetics and breeding — was the invention of the quantitative genetic “animal model”. This is a statistical model in the sense of a set of mathematical equations where the numbers are derived by fitting them to real data.

      This model allows us to estimate different genetic parameters (like how much of the variation between animals in a population is due to inheritance and how much is due to environment), and also to predict the “breeding value” of an animal, which reflects what we expect its offspring to be like. For example, the breeding value milk production in a bull tells us how much milk we expect his daughters to produce. This is very useful for animal breeding!

    • Photo: David Clancy

      David Clancy answered on 1 Dec 2023:

      I’m gonna say AI. It will be absolutely transformative.

      Next generation DNA sequencing has also been pretty good.