Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2007

Using a Canadian space telescope and the European Southern Observatory in Chile, Udry inferred that the most promising object is slightly larger than earth, circles its sun in 18 days, and may be rocky. In a late April issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the University of Geneva professor provided details about his sophisticated search. Both of the celestial bodies orbit the red dwarf star Gliese 581, which is only 20 light years from earth. Although prospects for the two planets may be less hopeful than Udry and his associates projected, the methods that they used to locate the small planet could be used to make many more discoveries.

7. Engineers Create Transparent Material as Strong as Steel

Engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have created a material similar to "transparent aluminum," the fantastic substance described by Scotty in Star Trek IV. In the Oct. 5 issue of Science, Nicholas Kotov showed that clay is good for far more than making bricks and expensive skincare products. The earthen material is made up of phenomenally strong nanometer-sized particles. When arranged neatly between thin layers of a sticky but weak plastic, the tiny bits of dirt act as the ultimate reinforcements -- giving the ordinary material extraordinary strength. The sturdy composite could be used in lightweight armor or aircraft.

6. Soft Tissue from T. Rex Leg Bone Analyzed

This spring, the oldest patient in the pathology department of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston was a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex. For the first time, scientists have analyzed biological molecules from the ancient creatures. Working with soft tissue from a leg bone that was extremely well-preserved in prehistoric Montana sediments, John Asara read the chemical recipe of a protein that served as a springy structural element in the dinosaur's bones. In the April 13 issue of Science, he and his colleagues compared the deadly predator to animals that roam the earth today and concluded that it has a lot in common with chickens.

5. Laboratory Mice Cured of Rett Syndrome

Researchers affiliated with the Wellcome Trust have shown evidence that Rett syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder that afflicts one in every 10,000 female births, might be curable. Caused by a mutation, the disorder prevents children from walking, talking or speaking and gives them terrible tremors. By creating mice with a similar affliction, Adrian Bird and his colleagues at Edinburgh University and the University of Glasgow tested the effects of fixing the bad gene. In the Feb. 23 issue of Science, they explained that the disease does not cause permanent damage to nerve cells, and breathing problems and tremors in mice stop when they are nudged into producing normal MeCP2 -- the protein corrupted by the disease.

4. Enzymes Convert Any Blood Type to O

Several major Type O blood shortages, including crises at the National Institutes of Health this fall and throughout Georgia in late summer, highlight the importance of creating a versatile blood type. In the rare instance that someone receives a transfusion of the wrong type, deadly reactions (caused by sugar molecules on the surfaces of red blood cells) can cause the immune system to go haywire.

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