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Science  23 Dec 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6063, pp. 1632
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6063.1632

Science's editors foresaw this year's advances in developing a new malaria vaccine. But last year's other predictions were a mixed bag.

The Large Hadron Collider


This year, the world's largest atom smasher had its first real chance to reveal new particles and new phenomena. We predicted that the first big results would arrive not from the LHC's two biggest particle detectors, ATLAS and CMS, but from the smaller LHCb detector—which was expected to test previously seen hints of new physics in the behavior of particles called Bs mesons. Alas, it hasn't yet. And neither LHCb nor the other three LHC detectors have seen incontrovertible proof of new physics—a fact that makes some scientists nervous.

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Adaptation genes

In 2011, many ecologists and evolutionary biologists started using faster, cheaper sequencing technologies to search for genes and gene activity patterns that help organisms thrive in nature. Researchers discovered genes that underlie mimicry in butterflies, and several papers revealed how the plant Arabidopsis is adapting to climate change. But most of these efforts have not yielded the promised gene finds—yet.

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Laser fusion

Some things are hard to rush, and getting a self-sustaining fusion burn at the National Ignition Facility is turning out to be one of them. Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California are still working to get the world's highest energy laser pulse to squeeze deuterium and tritium until their nuclei fuse. Some researchers fear it may never work, but Livermore's finest are working through the problems one at a time and remain confident of success.

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Hammering viruses

More and better immune-system generalists—so-called broadly neutralizing antibodies—came to light in 2011. These antibodies disable a wide range of flu and HIV variants instead of targeting just a specific one, providing hope for broad-ranging vaccines. After defining the structure of one such antibody that targets HIV, one group improved on its potency, a first step toward clinical value. Others have determined what these antibodies bind to on the virus. But no one has figured out which viral proteins or sugars prompt the formation of these antibodies in the body. That's what's needed for a vaccine.

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Electric vehicles

Change can be a tough sell. A year ago we suggested that sales of new mass-market plug-in electric vehicles could be sluggish due to concerns about the vehicles' limited range. And so they were. Nissan sold more than 20,000 copies of its new Leaf, while Mitsubishi, Chevy, and Tesla combined for about another 25,000. Not a bad start, but it's still paltry beside the roughly 17 million vehicles sold in just the United States every year. And the feds' new inquiry into the safety of the Chevy Volt's lithium-ion batteries won't help.

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Malaria shots

The results of the first phase III trial of a malaria vaccine came out in October. They met the modest expectations raised by phase II studies and were hailed as a milestone for this notoriously difficult research field, despite the vaccine's shortcomings (see p. 1633).

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