From the Dean: Science advances

There were many achievements in 2015.

The building blocks of life are the four nucleotides with the alphabet code A, T, G and C in the DNA  of every animal and plant cell. Even small changes in  this coding can drastically change the gene function in living organisms.  Research has sought for ways to edit the genetic code in cells, to control and change targeted genes to gain better understanding of their complex roles. Efficient gene modification could open the door to many useful applications, in agriculture, ecology and biomedicine.

A major breakthrough in 2015, recognized by the leading scientific journals Science and Nature, is a technique for genome editing across several biological domains, known as “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”, or CRISPR for short.  CRISPR has been developing for some years, and is now set to revolutionize biological research. For example, as it speeds the transmission of genes in cell and animal models for drug development, it should make it easier to study human genetic diseases. CRISPR has far-ranging implications, and calls for clarifying ethical guidelines for the research community.

There were many other achievements in 2015. Examples include the stunning images from the New Horizons mission to the Pluto, and experimental confirmation of the mind-boggling “entanglement” (quantum correlation) of two widely separated particles. The major achievements include also the discovery made by Finnish researchers that the mammalian lymphatic system extends the body’s immune system to the brain, contrary to conventional wisdom.  There was the development of a successful Ebola vaccine, and many other achievements.

Some philosophers describe science advancing through revolutionary “paradigm shifts” followed by long periods  “normal science” leading to incremental progress.  I tend to disagree with this view.  More typically, science advances through steps back and forth,  through discoveries and failures, and only time will tell the true value of new findings and techniques. But science advances.

Risto Nieminen
Dean, Aalto School of Science

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