Sat, Dec 24, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Evolution, chimpanzees, flu, fish in science top 10


New breakthroughs in the workings of Darwinist evolution, in flu genes, in chimpanzees and in stickleback fish led the top 10 discoveries in the science world this year, Science magazine said on Thursday.

In a year in which scientists and religious groups fought furiously over a pseudo-scientific challenge to accepted explanations of evolution, the weekly magazine chose to lead its top 10 with discoveries that "piled up new insights about evolution at the genetic level and the birth of species."

The breakthroughs included "information that could help us lead healthier lives in the future."

The magazine's top 10 list came out two days after a US court ruled that it was unconstitutional for a Pennsylvania school to teach the "intelligent design" concept as an alternative to Darwin's theory of natural selection as the driving force of evolution.

Advanced by religious conservatives and a handful of scientists, intelligent design postulates that nature and biological structures are so complicated that they must have been designed by an unidentified intelligent being, rather than evolving by chance.

"Evolution has been the foundation and guiding theory of biology ever since Darwin gave the theory its proper scientific debut in 1859," Science said.

At the top of the magazine's 10 breakthroughs was the mapping of the chimpanzee genome unveiled by researchers in October.

Scientists are using that map, alongside parts of the human genetic sequence, for a better understanding of the evolution of the human species.

The magazine also honored the sequencing of the virus which caused the 1918 global flu pandemic, using in part influenza genes that were found preserved in permafrost.

That development is particularly important, the magazine said, because the 1918 virus is believed to have started as purely a bird virus. Scientists and health officials around the world are currently studying the rapid spread of another bird flu strain which they fear could jump to humans.

A third genetic discovery noted by Science is the way the Alaskan stickleback fish lost its armor as it evolved from an oceanic, salt-water fish to a freshwater lake-dweller.

In astronomy for the year, Science gave a nod to the landing of the European spacecraft Huygens on the largest moon of Saturn, Titan, which revealed a world shaped by heavy rains of liquid methane.

The magazine named to the top 10 list a group of studies on "faulty wiring" in the brain. The studies suggest that conditions like schizophrenia, Tourette syndrome and dyslexia arise from faulty wiring of the brain's neural circuits during fetal development.

Among other big stories of the year, the magazine singled out increasing evidence of global warming, including melting of Arctic ice and altered bird migrations. As "scientific evidence for climate change built up in 2005," the magazine said, "non-scientists seem to have listened."

It also made note of the decision to site the world's first fusion reactor, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, in France, chosen over Japan; and setbacks in experimental particle collider projects in the US.

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