Jaw-Dropping Science Discoveries of 2016

The top 10 scientific discoveries of 2016 range from molecular machines to fish that can walk on walls. We’ve compiled this list to bring you the most interesting advances that will shape the world in 2017 and beyond.

Every day, researchers are actively pursuing the answers to some of life’s biggest (and smallest!) questions. This year was no different, with several discoveries that are sure to rock the scientific community. Let’s take a look:

Have Nanobots Become Reality?
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir Fraser Stoddart and Bernard Feringa for the development of molecular machines 1–10,000 times smaller than a human hair. The molecular machines can rotate objects up to 10,000 times their size, which has implications for everything from cellular-level drug dosing to computers, or even cars.

Wall-Walking Cave Fish or Spiderman?
New Jersey Institute of Technology scientists Brooke Flammang, PhD and Daphne Soares, PhD discovered a very rare fish that can walk up walls. The Thai Cavefish (Cryptotora thamicola) is unique for its anatomical similarities to amphibians and ability to take alternating steps.

Due to the very limited number of Thai Cavefish in existence, Flammang and Soares were prohibited from dissecting specimens to analyze their skeletal structure. Instead, they relied on converting high-resolution videos into 3D images to capture movements. By researching the Thai Cavefish, the researchers hope to uncover evolutionary linkages between fish and amphibians.

Are There 9 Planets After All?
CalTech researchers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown found evidence of a planet approximately 10 times Earth’s size orbiting in the outer solar system. Pluto may have been recently demoted to dwarf-planet status, but it could possibly be replaced as the ninth planet in our solar system in the coming years. The currently unnamed giant orbits 20 times farther from the sun than Neptune and completes a single orbit around the solar system once every 20,000 years.

Stem Cells Restore Motor Function
Stanford University scientists succeeded in revitalizing the limbs of chronic stroke patients by injecting stem cells into the brain. The patients, all of whom had suffered from a stroke resulting in numb or frozen appendages, were able to regain control of their extremities after participating in the study. The trial has now been expanded and could pave the way for future post-stroke rehabilitation.

Discovered Gene Could Help Treat Neurodegenerative Disease
The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Japanese scientist Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi for discovering genes that allow cells to recycle waste. Dr. Ohsumi has been researching autophagy (recycling) in cooking yeast since the 1980s and is credited with many breakthroughs in the field.

Autophagy manipulation, the regulation of cells’ natural deconstruction process for dysfunctional components, has been the focus of research aiming to combat degenerative diseases. Researchers hope that autophagy manipulation will aid in the treatment of infectious and neurodegenerative diseases.

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Moves Towards Personalization
Researchers from over 40 institutions found four subtypes of pancreatic cancer: squamous, immunogenic, aberrantly differentiated endocrine exocrine (ADEX), and pancreatic progenitor. Currently, pancreatic cancer has an 80% mortality rate. Knowing the type of pancreatic cancer could significantly improve personalized treatment plans.

Brain Implant Restores Use of Paralyzed Hand
Paralyzed patient, Ian Burkhart, has regained the use of his hand with the help of a cybernetic medical implant developed by scientists at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.

The device consists of a brain implant and an arm sleeve that houses 130 microelectrodes. When wearing the sleeve, the implant translates signals in Burkhart’s brain to electric pulses, allowing him to perform daily tasks such as swiping a credit card or pouring a glass of water. This is the first cybernetic device that enables the patient to use their own limbs and could help future paralysis, stroke, and brain injury patients regain their mobility.

Cracking the Evolution Code
University of Chicago researchers discovered the separation between single-celled organisms and multicellular life. The billion year old mutation, GK-PID, is responsible for linking proteins in the correct arrangement for cell reproduction.

Without this mutation, cells would form irregularly and could even turn cancerous. Dr. Joseph W. Thorton and his team were able to determine the DNA sequence for GK-PID by analyzing ancestral mutations of over 200 species. This is a huge step towards deciphering the evolution of the animal kingdom!

The Great Plague is Identified
Researchers at the Museum of London Archaeology and Max Planck Institute examined over 3,500 burials of plague victims to find the cause of The Great Plague of 1655. The culprit, bacteria Yersinia pestis, was confirmed via DNA signature after five years spent excavating one of the largest sites in history.

22,338,618 Reasons this Research is Prime
University of Missouri mathematician Dr. Curtis Cooper found the new largest prime number. The number, which is 22,338,618 digits long, was found as part of the endless quest for certain large prime numbers. These special prime numbers are useful for data encryption of online banking and shopping.

Looking Ahead
The advances in 2016 have implications for cancer research, drug development, medical devices, and a host of other fields in the life sciences. Stay tuned in 2017, as researchers build on these findings (and we report the results).