Home » The science news of 2022 according to Science – Claudia Grisanti

The science news of 2022 according to Science – Claudia Grisanti

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The science news of 2022 according to Science – Claudia Grisanti

Last summer the Jwst space telescope went into operation. According to Science magazine, this is the most important scientific feat of 2022. The instrument took twenty years of work and ten billion dollars. Developed in collaboration between NASA and ESA and the Canadian space agency, it promises to revolutionize astronomical observations. Since it is a space telescope, like its predecessor Hubble, it overcomes the problem of image distortion due to the Earth’s atmosphere. Compared to Hubble, however, it is much more powerful, especially in the infrared field. The first images have already been reconstructed and many preliminary works have been published on the arXiv site.

An image that shows the difference in power between Jwst and Hubble is that of the “pillars of creation”, a region of star formation, where thanks to Jwst’s infrared vision it is possible to capture new details in areas that with Hubble appeared opaque . Among the first images that have arrived there is also that of the Smacs 0723 galaxy cluster, which thanks to the gravitational lens effect allows you to see even more distant galaxies. Another surprising image is that of Neptune, the planet of our solar system, in which the tenuous rings and clouds of frozen methane at high altitude are clearly visible. In the coming years, astronomers expect new surprises and discoveries. Thanks to the little fuel consumed, the Jwst telescope could remain operational until the 1940s.

In addition to the telescope, Jwst Science points to nine other searches that represent major advances this year.

A perennial variety of rice helps its cultivation
In November, the results of the experimental cultivations of the Pr23 rice variety were presented. It is a cross between a commercial annual variety, grown in Asia, and a type of perennial wild rice, which grows in Africa. The plant remains productive for four years. There is therefore no need to carry out the plantation every year, saving many hours of work for the farmers. Growing a perennial variety comes with some risks to the environment, such as the spread of weeds and pests. However, according to Science, the benefits of Pr23 are clear and further studies are underway to extend crops and adapt perennial rice to other realities.

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AI gets creative
In 2022 artificial intelligence is getting creative. With the release of Dall-e 2 it became possible to produce artistic images from texts. The images are realistic and attractive. After the images we moved on to the production of videos. According to Science, advances in artificial intelligence aren’t limited to the arts. Also in mathematics, computer science and science there are many applications of machine learning. However, the use of artificial intelligence raises problems, for example in terms of copyright, the perpetuation of stereotypes or the spread of disinformation. It has also been accused of cutting jobs, as has been the case with other innovations in the past.

A bacterium of surprising mass
Also the discovery of the bacterium Thiomargarita magnifica it deserves to be remembered. It is five thousand times larger than many bacterial cells and can be seen with the naked eye. It was discovered on the surface of dead mangrove leaves in the French Antilles. The characteristics of the bacterium surprised the researchers, because they contrast with some established ideas about microorganisms. Unlike common bacteria, the T. magnifica it has internal compartments that allow you to regulate the presence of nutrients and waste. Its DNA is packaged in membranous sacs, along with the molecules to make proteins. The structure of the T. magnifica it is therefore intermediate between that of bacteria and that of more complex cells, such as those that make up animals.

Two vaccines against respiratory syncytial virus
In 2022, trials of two vaccines against respiratory syncytial virus (rsv) were successful. Vaccines have proven to be effective and safe in two vulnerable population groups: children and the elderly. Over fifty years ago a vaccine candidate failed to prove itself safe. However, the new preparations produce many more antibodies than the old one and appear to have overcome the safety problems. It is still too early to say whether the new vaccines are really effective and safe, but as candidates they are promising.

A virus that causes multiple sclerosis
A study published in January found a link between multiple sclerosis and Epstein-Barr virus infection. To find the link, the researchers analyzed the data of more than ten million people collected over twenty years. Of the 801 people who developed multiple sclerosis, only one tested positive for the virus. A mechanism has since been proposed that explains why infection with the virus can lead to the development of multiple sclerosis. The discoveries have stimulated research into drugs against the disease. Trials of some Epstein-Barr virus vaccines are also underway.

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In the United States a law for the climate
Science recalls that 2022 was the year of the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States. The measure provides for funding of 369 billion dollars over ten years for the use of renewable sources and nuclear energy in the production of electricity, for the adoption of electric vehicles and the reduction of emissions in the industrial sector. The law could help the United States reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The commitment made by the United States in the Paris Agreement was a 50 percent reduction, for which other measures are needed.

The plague in the DNA of Europeans
A research on the plague epidemic between 1347 and 1351 is also among the ten searches of the year. The study analyzed the DNA of some European populations before, during and after the medieval plague epidemic. The analysis of the DNA, recovered from ancient burials, showed that the spread of the bacterium Yersinia pestis it altered the genetic profile of Europeans, favoring people who possessed certain genetic variants. The variants confer greater resistance to the plague, but in some cases they can also lead to the development of autoimmune diseases. In the modern European population the variants are still present. In this way the plague continues to affect people’s health.

Deflected asteroid
Last September, NASA conducted the Double asteroid redirection test, or Dart. He intentionally hurled a shuttle into an asteroid called Dimorphos. The purpose of the mission was to demonstrate that it is possible to deflect an asteroid into space. According to Science, the research could be useful if an asteroid headed towards our planet is discovered. Indeed, the Dart mission managed to divert the asteroid’s trajectory permanently.

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An ecosystem reconstructed from a two million year old DNA
Finally, Science recalls the study that made it possible to reconstruct a completely disappeared environment, which dominated northern Greenland two million years ago. DNA has been extracted from the soil of what now appears to be a frozen desert. In the past, however, the region was home to sparse woods of poplars, thujas and other conifers. The area was home to geese, hares, reindeer and mastodons, extinct relatives of elephants. The study has made it possible to reconstruct a habitat with no resemblance to modern environments, for which it is difficult to find fossils.

The limits of the zero covid policy
Science also points to three negative developments this year. The first is how China has abandoned its zero covid policy. The spread of the very transmissible omicron variants of the coronavirus made the zero-covid approach increasingly difficult. However, according to the US magazine, the transition could have been prepared better, in a more orderly manner. China would not be prepared to live with the virus, according to Science. Only 66 percent of Chinese people over 80 are fully vaccinated and only 40 percent have received a booster.

International collaboration languishes
A second negative fact is the limitation of international collaborations in the scientific field. The Russian invasion of Ukraine led many European countries to suspend scientific collaboration with their Russian counterparts this year. The European space agency, ESA, has suspended collaboration on the ExoMars probe project, which has been delayed. Due to international tensions, collaboration between some Western countries and China was also limited in some specific fields.

War increases carbon dioxide emissions
Finally, the disruption of the energy market due to the war encouraged the use of coal for the production of electricity. Greenhouse gas emissions could grow over the next two years due to changes caused by the conflict. In the longer term, however, the crisis could accelerate the transition to alternative energy.

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