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What a fascinating time to be alive! Welcome to Watchmojo.com, and today we're counting down our picks for the "Top 10 Amazing Scientific Discoveries Made Recently."
For this list, we’re looking at the most exciting scientific developments and discoveries of the 21st century, prioritizing those which have occurred most recently.
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#10: Our species far is older than previously thought.
For the longest time, the popular scientific consensus was that humanity’s roots stretched back to around 200,000 years ago—when humankind originated in Africa. In 2017, however, that long-held timeline was smashed wide open with the proper identification of human remains dating back another 150,000 years—nearly doubling the previously believed history of our species. Jebel Irhoud is the Morrocan site where the remains were unearthed. Interestingly enough, the site was first uncovered in the 1960s, but the remains were mistaken for a neanderthal. Modern researchers have since confirmed that they are in fact early homo sapiens, and just like that, we’ve been forced to re-evaluate human history.
#9: Scientists found many planets with potential for life.
Are we alone in the universe? It’s a question that science and popular media has explored at length without ever offering a definitive answer. In recent years however, with advancements in space research and technology, we’ve been given reason to believe that the answer is no—or at least, probably not. In the last decade alone, we’ve discovered many potentially habitable planets, both far out in space and relatively close to Earth. In 2015, it was announced that scientific community had found 12 such Earth-like planets. In 2016, 3 more were found just 40 light-years away. In 2017, Ross 128b, which is similar in size to Earth, was spotted at just 11 light-years away.
#8: A stem cell transplant cured sickle cell anemia.
In 2017, something massive happened in the medical field—a widely applicable cure for Sickle Cell Anemia was discovered. The condition, which affects millions worldwide, is hereditary and, in addition to causing severe chronic pain, can result in stroke, organ damage and a notably shortened lifespan. Sadly, up until recently, the only option for a cure was a bone marrow transplant, which had limited applications. In 2017 however, a teenage boy treated by the Necker Children's Hospital in Paris was cured of the disease thanks to a breakthrough treatment involving stem cell therapy. Since then, the treatment was been given to children and adults alike with similar results. Scientists hope this can cure all sickle cell anemia sufferers.
#7: Robotic Body Parts
The concept of prosthetic limbs might not be anything new, but in the last few years, we’ve made leaps and bounds in the field with the development of advanced robotic limbs. It’s more than just putting together a limb with greater articulation… it’s about producing a prosthetic limb that people can accurately control. In 2018, Johnny Matheny became the first person in the world to have a robotic arm attached to his skeleton that he can control with his mind as part of a program at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. His isn’t the only such experiment however. Robotic arms and legs for amputees and exoskeleton limbs for patients with neurodegenerative conditions are the future.
#6: We’ve taken steps towards quantum computers.
Quantum computing has long been theorized as the inevitable future, but it looks as if we’re finally starting to see it become a reality. 2017 was a BIG year for research into the field, with Google, Intel, Microsoft, and a number of other research institutes making major breakthroughs, moving research off of the page to build actual prototypes. In quantum computing, quantum bits (or qubits) are used instead of the conventional bits you recognize from your home computer, and in 2017, 22, 50, 51, and 53-qubit machines were unveiled. Google has since moved on to a 72-bit machine. The actual applications of quantum computing? Only time will tell.
#5: Scientists have transferred basic memories between snails.
It sounds like something out of science fiction, but this staggering scientific discovery was made in our very own reality. In 2018, scientists transposed basic reflexive memories between sea snails by extracting RNA from one snail and injecting it into another. The researchers sensitized snails with a small shock, until they would retract their gills defensively whenever prodded in that spot without electricity. A second group of snails were then injected with the RNA of the snails form the first group, and were observed instinctively retracting their gills whenever prodded despite no prior conditioning. Snails not given the RNA did not.
#4: Scientists reversed damage caused by Alzheimer's Disease in a human brain cell.
Medical advancements have dramatically extended the human life expectancy, but unfortunately, advancements in cognitive health have failed to keep pace. Alzheimer's is now a very real possibility for many aging individuals, and the scientific and medical community really has little to offer in the way of preventative measures or treatment, let alone a cure. For the first time however, there’s reason to hope. Researchers at the Gladstone Institutes in California have identified that a gene known as apoE4 is central to the condition, and when they altered its structure, they reversed the damage done to those cells by Alzheimer's. A cure might not be on the immediate horizon, but this a major step.
#3: Fuel from Water
The first water-fueled car was allegedly demonstrated in the 1930s, and Stanley Meyer’s perpetual motion water fuel cell made waves in the 1980s, but neither have deemed to hold water (so to speak) under scrutiny. In 2014 however, German clean technology company Sunfire GmbH unveiled a functioning machine that actually transforms carbon dioxide and water into a usable synthetic petroleum fuel. In 2015, the company teamed up with Audi to further refine the process, pairing it with renewable energy to power the conversion process. The end result? Fuel with a carbon footprint close to zero.
#2: Researchers reversed signs of aging in mice.
Immortality… it seems like a lofty and unattainable goal, but that hasn’t stopped humankind from pursuing it for millennia via supernatural, religious, or scientific means. According to a study published in 2018 however, we might finally be making headway. Scientists from Harvard Medical school claim to have reversed one particular sign of aging, the slowing of blood flow, in mice, by introducing a molecule known as nicotinamide mononucleotide (or NMN for short). Though this might seem minor, better blood flow significantly helps the health of entire body, including the heart and brain. In 2018, the University of Alabama at Birmingham similarly managed to reverse hair loss and wrinkling in lab mice.
#1: Liquid Water on Mars
Though it’s thrilling to contemplate the existence of life on far off planets, our limited capacity for space flight means that we can’t really go check them out for ourselves anytime soon. Mars, on the other hand, is well within our reach, and that’s what makes this discovery so thrilling. Researchers had previously identified signs of possible waterflow on the planet, but in 2018, the European Space Agency MARSIS instrument identified an underground lake of liquid water. This is a massively exciting discovery in its own right, but considering the fact that water is a fundamental building block of life, it could also give us great insight into the possibility of life on Mars, past or present.