From corals bunkering down in deeper waters to wait out climate change stress, to how vaccines can boost our immune system beyond a specific disease – here are the 20 most surprising scientific facts that we discovered this year.
The virus that causes Covid-19 hijacks human cells by exploiting a ‘doorway’ that is potentially also used by other deadly viruses such as HIV, dengue and Ebola, according to recent research that may help to explain why the coronavirus is so highly infectious to a wide range of organs in the body. Dr Yohei Yamauchi, a viral cell biologist at the University of Bristol, UK, who led the research, believes that the finding could not only lead to new drugs against Covid-19, but other anti-viral treatments that could be used to save patients’ lives in future pandemics.
The world’s first mRNA vaccine has begun its rollout after being produced at unprecedented speed as part of the global effort to end the Covid-19 pandemic. A second one is hot on its heels. The two – one made by Pfizer/BioNTech and the other by Moderna – mark the first time this vaccine technology has been approved for use.
As the social isolation compelled by the pandemic swept many of us into a flurry of panic, grief and mental funk, a section of people actually reported improved levels of wellbeing, found biological psychologist Meike Bartels, a professor of genetics and wellbeing at VU Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Live vaccines can give health effects beyond just protecting us from a specific disease and may even help us combat other infections such as Covid-19, according to Christine Stabell Benn, a professor in global health at the University of Southern Denmark.
Efforts to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 with a vaccine could be hampered by low levels of confidence in immunisation programs in some European countries, warns Professor Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project and an anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in the UK.
Bats are in the limelight these days because they are rumoured to be the source of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the coronavirus pandemic. But that is just part of their story. Bats turn out to be miraculous creatures. Their ability to age without decrepitude or cancer, as well as fight off a multitude of infections, are giving us clues about how to do the same for ourselves.
The world’s pressing need is a vaccine to fight the current threat of Covid-19, but ultimately we may be able to develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine, Sunetra Gupta, a professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford, UK, said at the European Commission’s annual research event.
Hyperloops could replace short-haul air travel.
Car manufacturers are rolling out higher levels of automation but public acceptance is lagging behind.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.