Important science and technology findings in 2018

  1. The Gompertz-Makeham law predicts statistically the mortality rate of human beings. The key takeaway is that it is an exponential function. Every few years, the mortality rate of a human being doubles. It is not unique to human beings: most mammals and many other animals have an exponentially rising mortality rate over time. It does not affect all animals, however. Lobsters do not appear to age like we do. Many trees age in reverse, meaning that their mortality rate diminishes over time. In 2018, a scientist studying naked mole rates for decades published an analysis of over 3,000 rats and found that their mortality rate remains constant throughout their life. We do not know why naked mole rates age differently from most other mammals.
  2. Type 1 diabetes is when your pancreas is unable to supply insulin to your cells. Though it can be treated with expensive and inconvenient insulin shots, there is no cure. In 2018, we found that a heart-disease drug can partially reverse type 1 diabetes. This could make some diabetics less dependent on insulin.
  3. Though artificial intelligence has been making a lot of progress in tasks such as image classification and game playing, we are still a long way from being able to intelligently animate human-like body parts like hands. Simple tasks like folding laundry or turning a door knob are still a massive challenge. In 2018, researchers from OpenAI have trained a human-like robot hand to manipulate objects like we would.
  4. Older people tend to have a less efficient immune system. In 2018, we learned that we can at least partially reverse age-related immune-system decline using drugs. It substantially reduces infections in older people.
  5. The human genome project set forth in 1990 to map the human chromosomes. We thought at the time that human beings would have 100,000 genes, but they have only about 25,000 genes. The map was completed in 2003. Yet applications of the human genome project have been scarce. In 2018, the first gene-silencing drug was approved in the USA.
  6. Electrocardiograms (ECG) have been used since the 19th century to monitor human hearts. The first commercially available ECG machines were produced at the beginning of the 20th century but they remain specialized devices mostly just used within hospitals. They are also somewhat invasive. In 2018, Apple released a watch with government-approved ECG (heart monitoring) capabilities.
  7. CRISPR/Cas9 is technique developed in 2012 to edit the genes of living organisms. It is unclear whether it is safe to use it on human beings… Using this technique, a Chinese researcher helped produce the first genetically modified babies, they may be immune to HIV.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the Université du Québec (TELUQ).

One thought on “Important science and technology findings in 2018”

  1. Yet applications of the human genome project have been scarce

    Almost all human DNA sequencing research and diagnostics is downstream of mapping reads to the human genome.

    Eg genotyping or finding variants requires finding the difference of a person vs the genome.

    RNAseq requires mapping reads to the genome then doing stats on how counts fall within regions (eg genes).

    Choice of microarray probes is also made easier with a reference.

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