2005: The year in biology and medicine

时间:2019-03-02 04:07:04166网络整理admin

By Shaoni Bhattacharya 2005 is a year that opened and closed with controversy, amid a feverish anticipation of a global bird flu pandemic. It began with continued trouble over serious side-effects of certain COX-II inhibitor arthritis drugs, including Vioxx, allegations of a cover-up, and the award of a multi-million dollar payout against a drug company. The close of 2005 saw a storm of allegations over the veracity of landmark stem cell papers. Major breakthroughs in 2005 included the publishing of several complete genomes, including a dog called Tasha, the chimpanzee, three human parasites, ancient cave bears, as well as a map of genetic variations called SNPs in the human genome. The year also saw the world’s first human face transplant by French surgeons – one of several international teams vying to achieve this high-profile goal. However, as 2005 ends, one major breakthrough has been thrown into doubt. The study, by Woo Suk Hwang at Seoul National University in South Korea, and colleagues, was published in Science and offered great hope to patients. The team claimed it had cloned 11 human stem cell lines specific to 11 different patients. But the study became mired in controversy, jeopardising plans for a World Stem Cell Hub. First came allegations and then admissions that Hwang has used the eggs of junior colleagues on the team, contravening ethical rules. Then came claims that Hwang had fabricated some results. US colleague Gerald Schatten asked for Science to retract their paper, and investigations began. Another breakthrough paper of 2004 by Hwang, which outlined the first cloning of human embryonic stem cells has now come under scrutiny, as may the cloning of an Afghan hound dubbed Snuppy by Hwang’s team. The year also saw a growing fear of bird flu, with anxiety that it might mutate or combine with human flu to produce a deadly pandemic strain of human influenza. The lethal H5N1 strain resurfaced in China in migratory birds at Qinghai Lake in May. It has since spread across Asia to Romania and Turkey, with fears it might reach Africa from Europe. Outbreaks continued in Vietnam and China, with China’s first official human bird flu death reported in November. Unofficial reports suggested this might be only the tip of the iceberg. Drug manufacturers are now racing to produce a low-dose vaccine for humans. Scientists also created their own concern by resurrecting the deadly 1918 flu strain – which killed millions in a pandemic – in the lab. But other deadly diseases wreaked havoc in 2005. Haemorrhagic fever, caused by the Marburg virus struck down hundreds in Angola in mid-2005, making it the deadliest Marburg outbreak ever recorded. The year was also intended to mark the global demise of poliomyelitis, but that aim was foiled when the virus spread from an outbreak in Nigeria, to Sudan and then onto the Middle East and beyond. Scientists hope to rid the world of polio in 2006. In the US in 2005, a judge banished God from biology classes in a landmark case over the teaching of “intelligent design”. Proponents argue this theory, which purports that some aspects of nature require the involvement of a “designer”, is not creationism and is a valid alternative to Darwinian evolution. But 11 parents successfully took a school board in Pennsylvania to court for advocating this in science classes. Medicine also saw some quirky developments in 2005. Researchers in Michigan, US, developed a robot to carry out breast examinations. And scientists in London, UK, suggest that being happy may be the best way to keep healthy. The natural world proffered some gruesome tales this year: of grasshoppers brainwashed into suicide; cannibalistic squid; killer tree ants; and overgrown mice on the remote Gough Island devouring helpless seabird chicks alive. New discoveries, such as two new lemur species on Madagascar and a mystery mammal found in Borneo, excited biologists. While the revelation that bigger brains may mean smaller testes in bats,