2009 List: Into the Unknown 2009 List: Into the Unknown
Issue 014

2009 List: Into the Unknown

by Lauren Aaronson

January 1, 2009

Seven advancements in science that will move the world forward in 2009.

1 Malaria Vaccine  The world will get one step closer to a malaria vaccine, which will ultimately protect and save hundreds of millions of people. GlaxoSmithKline's patented formula, which seems to cut the risk of malaria in half, enters the final stage of clinical trials in 2009. If all goes well, it could hit doctors' bags within a few years.2 Anti-AIDS Pills  Though attempts at a vaccine have been disappointing, eyes are on another form of prevention: pre-exposure prophylaxis, or HIV medicine taken like a birth-control pill, by people who don't have HIV. Early data will soon roll in from the first trials, and if it looks promising, future tests may look into whether you can take the pills less frequently.3 Dark Matter  Astrophysicists are marshaling every means possible to figure out what's in dark matter. Most experts think the mysterious stuff, whose gravity seems to hold galaxies together, is made up of as-yet-unseen particles. One group may have just spotted evidence that these particles really do exist, so expect more sightings soon.4 Weather Research  Researchers are running the biggest experiment yet to see how global warming will affect weather and natural disasters. Most computer models can predict overall climate or local weather, but not both. The National Center for Atmospheric Research is combining the two to find out how much stronger hurricanes will get and which areas will be hit hardest.5 Lab-Grown Body Parts  Organs grown in petri dishes will move out of the lab and into human bodies. The  biotech company Tengion will start clinical trials of its lab-made bladder, which it creates by coaxing some of a patient's own cells to develop around a biodegradable scaffolding. And the U.K.-based Intercytex will test its artificial living skin, bred from the cells of neonatal foreskins.6 Microbe-Made Gasoline  Two synthetic-biology companies have engineered microorganisms that turn sugar into oil instead of alcohol. Two pilot plants open this fall, and will be analyzing the output this year. They could scale up production in a year or two, selling drill-free fuels that, unlike ethanol, provide just as much energy as ordinary gas.7 Unknown Ocean  This is the first year at sea for the Okeanos Explorer ship that beams undersea photos and videos back to researchers on land. The Explorer will use sonar to map the seafloor as it trolls previously uncharted waters; it can also send smaller remote-controlled subs down for closer views.
NOW WHAT  Donate your postmortem self to the Anatomy Gifts Registry at anatomicgift.com.
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2009 List: Into the Unknown