Dec 29, 2017

The science stories that mattered most in 2017

An enhanced-color image of Jupiter's south pole created by citizen scientist Roman Tkachenko using data acquired by NASA's Juno spacecraft on February 2, 2017. Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Roman Tkachenko

Sometimes the value of scientific research and the implications of how science is done and regarded aren't understood for years. Still, some science stories from the past year stood out. From colliding neutron stars to DNA editing to that visitor from another solar system, here are our choices for the top stories of 2017:

  1. Astronomers announced a new era when they detected the collision of two neutron stars.
  2. DNA was edited in human embryos for the first time in the U.S. (Go deeper: researchers questioned the report. But gene editing has arrived in medicine — the first clinical trials in humans are expected to start in the next year or so.)
  3. In another first, an object from another solar system was spotted entering our stellar territory. Initially it was thought to be an asteroid but on further analysis it could be a comet.
  4. Our own origin story became a little messier with the discovery of the oldest human fossils to date in Morocco.
  5. AI got good at games: most notably, it learned to play Go by itself and triumphed over humans at a version of Texas Hold 'Em. (What's next: AI in 2018.)
  6. China flexed some serious physics muscles in a series of space-based quantum communications experiments.
  7. The Nobel prizes in the sciences were again awarded to men — most of them white Americans.
  8. The Antarctic peninsula will never look the same after an iceberg broke off from the Larsen C ice shelf in July.
  9. Policy and politics: President Trump's initial budget proposal included steep funding cuts, he has been slow to fill key scientific positions in the government, and many of his nominees lack science degrees. Meanwhile, foreign leaders offered to take in U.S. scientists.
  10. Gene therapies made it to market, including a CAR-T cancer treatment for children and young adults with a certain form of leukemia approved by the FDA in August. The treatment involves modifying a patient's immune cells and then placing them back in the body to attack cancer cells. What to expect next: a debate over pricing the drugs.

Go deeper

Coronavirus spreads to more countries, and South Korea ups its case count

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting those are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the U.S. South Korea's confirmed cases jumped from 204 on Friday to 433 on Saturday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,362 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 5 mins ago - Health

Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins

Bernie Sanders rallies in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Center-left think tank Third Way urgently called on the Democratic front-runners of the 2020 presidential election to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders on the South Carolina debate stage on Feb. 25, in a memo provided to Axios' Mike Allen on Saturday.

What they're saying: "At the Las Vegas debate ... you declined to really challenge Senator Sanders. If you repeat this strategy at the South Carolina debate this week, you could hand the nomination to Sanders, likely dooming the Democratic Party — and the nation — to Trump and sweeping down-ballot Republican victories in November."

Situational awareness

Warren Buffett. Photo: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Catch up on today's biggest news:

  1. Warren Buffett releases annual letter, reassures investors about future of Berkshire Hathaway
  2. Greyhound bars immigration sweeps
  3. U.S. military officially stops offensive operations in Afghanistan
  4. America's future looks a lot like Nevada
  5. Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins