This week, Science celebrates the impending 20th anniversary of the publication of the draft human genome sequence—a landmark achievement by any measure…The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an internationally supported public project (Celera Genomics was the private effort that simultaneously sequenced the human genome). When the endeavor was launched in 1990, collaboration among a diverse group of scientists was essential because the sequencing was distributed across a number of international research sites.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the publisher of Science) also looks forward to next week’s annual meeting, whose theme is “Understanding Dynamic Ecosystems.” At first glance, these two events may seem unrelated. But the successful completion of the human genome sequence ushered in biology’s era of “big science” and created a research ecosystem for tackling complex, technology-driven, and data-intensive multidisciplinary projects that continue to improve our understanding of cancer, the microbiome, the brain, and other areas of biology.
The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an internationally supported public project (Celera Genomics was the private effort that simultaneously sequenced the human genome). When the endeavor was launched in 1990, collaboration among a diverse group of scientists was essential because the sequencing was distributed across a number of international research sites. High-throughput technologies for DNA sequencing were critical to the project’s success, and the participation of biotech companies in the effort was instrumental in driving down the cost, speed, and throughput of generating DNA sequence. The ever-increasing amount of sequence data drove the development of mathematical and computational tools for assembling and annotating the data. Neither the laboratory scientists nor the computational scientists could have done this alone, and the convergence of these disciplines has been one of the most important legacies of the early genome efforts. There was also a commitment to train the next generation of genome scientists, and over the past 20 years, many colleges and universities have established new undergraduate and graduate programs in quantitative and systems biology. Life sciences students today graduate with a very different set of skills than they did in 2000.
Each year, editors and writers choose a top research achievement as Science’s Breakthrough of the Year. This year, that honor goes to the multiple COVID-19 vaccines that have succeeded in large human trials—and are now being deployed around the world. But there are a lot of other advances to talk about, from figuring out the origin of Fast Radio Bursts to the discovery of the earliest known figurative art. Check out a few of the runners-up candidates—and this year’s Breakthrough of the Year—in this video rundown. Read the stories here: https://scim.ag/37v20ds
Our last episode of the year is a celebration of science in 2020. First, host Sarah Crespi talks with Online News Editor David Grimm about some of the top online news stories of the year—from how undertaker bees detect the dead to the first board game of death. (It’s not as grim as it sounds.)
Sarah then talks with Online News Editor Catherine Matacic about the Breakthrough of the Year, scientific breakdowns, and some of the runners-up—amazing accomplishments in science achieved in the face of a global pandemic. Finally, Book Review Editor Valerie Thompson joins Sarah to discuss highlights from the books section—on topics as varied as eating wild foods to how the materials we make end up shaping us.
Staff Writer Meredith Wadman and host Sarah Crespi discuss what to expect from the two messenger RNA–based vaccines against COVID-19 that have recently released encouraging results from their phase III trials and the short-term side effects some recipients might see on the day of injection.
Sarah also talks with researcher Xing Chen, a project co-leader and postdoctoral scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, about using brain stimulation to restore vision. Researchers have known for about 70 years that electrical stimulation at certain points in the brain can lead to the appearance of a phosphene—a spot of light that appears not because there’s light there, but because of some other stimulation, like pressing on the eyeball. If electrical stimulation can make a little light appear, how about many lights? Can we think about phosphenes as pixels and draw a picture for the brain? How about a moving picture?