NextGen Results

NextGen VOICES: Results

We asked young scientists to answer this question:

What recent discovery in your field will still be remembered 200 years from now? Why?

In the 3 January 2014 issue, we ran excerpts from 14 of the many interesting responses we received. Below, you will find the full versions of those 14 essays (in the order they were printed) as well as the best of the other submissions we received (ordered alphabetically by author name).

Would you like to participate in the next NextGen VOICES survey? To make your voice heard, go to http://scim.ag/NextGen_10.

(Can't get enough NextGen? See the results of previous surveys at Future of a Generation, Definition of Success, Experiences that Changed Us, Big Ideas, Experiments in Governing, Science Communication's Future, Science Time Travel and Work-Life Balance.)

Follow the NextGen VOICES survey on Twitter with the hashtag #NextGenSci.

Essays in print

I have worked in two very different fields, my Ph.D. in atomic physics and my postdoc in remote sensing. The common link between the two, and also the reason for the existence of each of the subfields that I worked in (ultracold atom research and lidar remote sensing), is the laser. The laser, invented in 1960, has revolutionized scientific fields from physics to medicine, enabled technological advances such as fiberoptic communication and laser eye surgery, and is part of our everyday life in items like the laser pointer and DVD players. And the laser isn't done yet. As laser technology continues to improve, we can expect to soon see lasers in other applications, which could include driverless cars, quantum communication, or optical computing. Fast forward to the year 2200. The laser is part of almost everything we do, from brushing our teeth to turning on a light bulb. Electronic components now have thousands of microlasers. Almost all fields of medicine use lasers, be it for guiding a surgery or measuring blood sugar at your doctor's office. We cannot imagine a time without the laser, just as people in the 21st century could not imagine a time without electricity or antibiotics.
Anand Ramanathan
Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20740, USA and Laser Remote Sensing Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA.
E-mail: anand.ramanathan{at}nasa.gov

Without a doubt, 200 years from now the discovery of the Higgs boson will still be remembered. It has validated a 50-year-old theory and has given us a stronger understanding of the Standard Model. It also paved the way to work at the current model until we can be sure it describes our universe as it is. Perhaps our next step will be to prove or disprove supersymmetry, or maybe we will finally be able to identify dark matter. However, the most memorable aspect will be the collaborative effort that went into this remarkable discovery. Thousands of scientists and engineers from over 100 different countries were part of the experiments that took place at the Large Hadron Collider. The discovery led to the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert, but they were not the only winners in this scenario. The announcement on 4 July 2012 that the Higgs had finally been found was a win for the entire international scientific community. Scientists from all over the world had succeeded in coming together in order to advance our collective understanding of the universe. It was not the work of a few who kept everything to themselves to ensure their own glory; it was a group effort. In a time when, despite better modes of communication and technology, collaboration is not fully utilized, the discovery of the Higgs boson showed the amazing possibilities that exist when the world works together.
James Sheplock
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail:shepj{at}sas.upenn.edu

The recent discovery that will be remembered 200 years from now is the catalytic properties of RNA. Catalytic RNAs are remarkable in the way they changed our understanding of life. For instance, the resolution of the ribosome three-dimensional structure, by 2009 Nobel prize winners including Ada Yonath, shed light on the core mechanism by which life is translated from DNA to proteins, which was also a breakthrough for developing more efficient antibiotics. Remarkably, the inner structure in the ribosome responsible to catalyze protein synthesis, the peptidyl transferase center, is solely composed of RNA! Such highly conserved structure probably was one of the prebiotic precursors of life. RNAs also regulate gene expression, chromosome silencing, and several genome-wide self-defense mechanisms. Too many functions were previously attributed to DNA and proteins, whereas RNA was ignored due to its great instability. However, as Renée Schroeder, 2003 Wittgenstein laureate, once said: "[RNA] is more rounded, more flexible and more versatile, but more instable than DNA. But it is at least as important." The history behind catalytic RNAs discovery included notable women, such as Yonath and Schroeder, who haven't been neglected or treated with indifference in recognition of their cutting-edge discoveries like Rosalind Franklin was during description of DNA structure. Hopefully, the establishment of RNA as a central molecule in parallel to DNA will not only shape our understanding of life but also open a new chapter for gender equality in the future of science.
Ivan Lavander Candido Ferreira
Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP 05508–090, Brazil.
E-mail: ivan.lavander.ferreira{at}usp.br

The recent discovery that our planet's natural ecosystems provide tangible benefits to humanity has been a huge step forward in how we value and set about conserving Earth's increasing scarce natural capital. These benefits come from a range of services; for instance, the world's grasslands facilitate the development of agricultural opportunities, high-mountain regions supply fresh water to much of the world's population, and mangrove forests and reefs provide habitat to support the regeneration of edible fish stocks on which billions of people rely. Whereas intrinsically these ecosystems can be considered priceless, by attaching an economic value to the services they provide we can ascertain their relative importance in an increasing industrialized, monetized, and globalized world. The well-known article "The Value of the World's Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital" [Costanza et al., Nature 387, 253 (1997)] showed for the first time that the economic benefits provided by ecosystem services likely far outweigh the gross domestic product for the entire global economy. This discovery subsequently spurred an enormous amount of research and awareness for ecosystem services. Perhaps most important, this discovery challenged us as a species to take a good long hard look at the relationship between the planet's ecosystems and our way of life. If humanity still exists 200 years from now, it will be because we moved to protect and restore the world's natural capital based on the realization that without these ecosystem services, our species will be in big trouble. For this reason, we will remember this discovery.
Adrian Ward
School of Geography, Planning, and Environmental Management, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia.
E-mail: a.ward{at}uq.edu.au

Biomaterials are a new group of materials that are nontoxic and have potential to aid diagnosis and treatment of a variety of diseases. They can be formed as porous materials that act as a scaffold for the growth of stem cells to regenerate organs for patients with disorders such as heart diseases, diabetes, burned skins, nerve injuries, and paralysis. They can be used as implants in teeth or as bone joints or replacements in different parts of the body. They can be tuned for efficient drug delivery into desired parts of the body. At nanometer sizes, some biomaterials can be injected into the body and act as contrast agents to see different parts of the unhealthy organs without doing any surgery. While the biomaterials discoveries are new, I believe that they will have a huge impact in improving human life during the next centuries.
Razieh Khalifehzadeh
Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
E-mail: rk35{at}uw.edu

200 years from now, it will be appreciated that the precise identification, characterization, and manipulation of neurons enabled future generations to delve further into the inner workings of the seat of human experience and consciousness, the brain. The ability to pinpoint a single brain cell unambiguously, subject it to investigation, and put the resulting insights into a complete context will be a landmark for neuroscience. Like any big advance, this groundbreaking concept is a cumulative combination of techniques rather than a single point of creation. Methods to label cells distinctly, such as the "brainbow," which colors different neurons separately with an eclectic mix of fluorescent proteins, provide localization and spatial information. This positional information of a cell within its network can be coupled with the power to perturb a single neuron precisely, as demonstrable with optogenetics—the use of light pulses to selectively modulate one neuron—allowing the functional deconstruction of a highly complex organ that humans have long found intractable. In support of that, the power of the proteome can be wielded together with the ability to look into a transparent brain through the CLARITY process that enables colocalization of function and structure. Regardless of the stage of advancement at which we might find the field of neuroscience in 200 years, the principle and ability to understand the brain's components as well as their relation to the whole will provide routes to understanding the emergent properties that are more than the sum of its parts.
Eugene L. Q. Lee
Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), 138673, Singapore.
E-mail: eugeneleeliqun{at}hotmail.com

In Planetary Sciences, what we will remember in 200 years won't be a specific discovery, but a journey of discoveries: the adventures of the Mars rovers. Following the spirit of the legendary surveyors of the Earth's borders, the Mars rovers have just started a new chapter in the history of human exploration. Only, for the first time, the voyage is on another planet. The journey began in 1997, when the pioneer Sojourner landed on the outlet of the gigantic ancient channel Ares Vallis and demonstrated that we can rove on another planet. The MER twins first touched the surface of Mars early in 2004, with the mission of exploring opposite sides of the planet for at least 3 months and covering maybe half a mile. They exceeded the most optimistic dreams: Spirit sent her last communication to Earth from Gusev crater in 2010, while Opportunity is still active and celebrating this week her 10th anniversary on the plains of Meridiani, after traversing over 24 miles. In 2012, the Curiosity rover started her investigations inside Gale crater, where she can potentially explore for some decades. These missions have proven to be so revolutionary for Planetary Sciences during these pioneering years that we are already assembling the next ones, ExoMars2018 (ESA) and Mars2020 (NASA). We can expect that astronauts will be visiting the frozen remains of the rovers when humans finally set foot on Mars. Hopefully, that time will be soon enough that most of us will still be around. If not, in 200 years the Mars rovers will be waiting there, as a tribute to the human spirit of exploration. (Opportunity's 10th birthday will be 4 January 2014, very timely.)
Alberto G. Fairen
Department of Astronomy, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.
E-mail: agfairen{at}cornell.edu

The probing of the subglacial aquatic environments in Antarctica, especially by the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project (WISSARD), has revealed microbes living in some of the harshest conditions on Earth. In 200 years, humans will have explored far more environments with even harsher conditions than those of Antarctica. The discovery of life in Lake Whillans allows scientists to wonder if our accepted conditions for habitability are flawed. While this project has altered our basic knowledge of life on Earth, it simultaneously permits scientists to believe in the possibility of life on other planets. We have recently ascertained more than ever about the environments of our extraterrestrial neighbors, and 200 years from now this discovery will have further propelled the search for life elsewhere. Scientists have already proposed life in Mars's icy waters and on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, based on the findings of WISSARD's research. On another note, the more we know about the different ecosystems here on Earth, the easier it will be to make decisions on how to protect them. As the icy continent is a prominent figure in the global warming frenzy, this research may provide ample reason to curb our emissions. That is, if the project can be completed. We can only hope the government shutdown has not interrupted its progress enough to lose all research.
Lauren C. Shaw
Vagelos Program for Molecular Life Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: lashaw{at}sas.upenn.edu

Having no doubts is normally not allowed in science. But I currently have no doubts that we are witnessing the dawn of a new era. Launching this era is a combination of discoveries and invention: CRISP-Cas9, a bacterial self-defense mechanism used to edit complex genomes. Less than one year from its first application, this technique already has the feel of a big scientific breakthrough and, more than that, of a human revolution. It allows us to easily and efficiently edit genomes. It is easy to design. It is easy to use. The costs are way lower than those of the previously used technologies. Editing genomes will benefit all branches of scientific research, and all organisms might easily become model organisms. A number of applications have already been tried. My favorite is the one in which an enzymatically inactive Cas9 inhibits the expression of a single gene [Qi et al., Cell 152, 1173 (2013)]. This suggests obvious translational aspects: It is possible to envision a gene therapy approach in which we target disease-causing mutations, rearrange leukemic translocations, or insert or delete pieces of DNA in our stem cells or in human embryos! This discovery clearly shows our profound understanding of the several complicated components constituting the evolutionarily conserved molecular machinery within all living cells and, more important, that in an era profoundly dominated by technology, ideas generated by brilliant minds can still dominate the scene.
Claudio Cantù
Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, University of Zurich, Zurich, 8057, Switzerland.
E-mail: claudio.cantu{at}imls.uzh.ch

The discovery of photoelectrochemical water splitting by Honda and Fujishima [Nature 238, 37 (1972)] will be still remembered 200 years from now. Nowadays, rapidly diminishing fossil fuel reserves and the serious pollution caused by fossil fuel combustion are two major problems that people have to resolve for sustainable future. The solar-to-chemical energy conversion is the ultimate goal for scientists in the field of energy generation. Hydrogen from water as a form of clean energy source can provide the ultimate solutions for the energy shortage and pollution problems. Since Honda and Fujishima's work, numerous materials have been designed and tested for photocatalytic water splitting, as plants perform this through natural photosynthesis. In the future, hydrogen derived from water splitting by renewable solar energy will serve as a clean, sustainable, feasible, and affordable energy system. In 200 years, as future people are trying to resolve their problems while sitting in their zero-pollution and solar driven vehicles, perhaps some of them will remember the work of Honda and Fujishima in 1972.
Jian Liu
Department of Colloid Chemistry, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, 14424, Potsdam, Germany.
E-mail: Jian.Liu{at}mpikg.mpg.de

I think induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which were generated by Shinya Yamanaka in 2006 and earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in a fairly short time in 2012, will endure as a proud milestone in the history of biology. The discovery of iPS cells has opened a new avenue in stem cell research because it circumvents the controversial use of embryonic stem cells as iPS cells are transformed from adult cells. Furthermore, iPS cells hold great promise for application in regenerative medicine because a patient's own cells can be induced first to be a stem cell and then to differentiate to a variety of cell lines that may be used for cell therapy and tissue and organ engineering without the concern of transplant rejection. Although there are some technical limitations and safety concerns, iPS cells will eventually fulfill their great potential to revolutionize medicine with our ever-advancing understanding of nature and developing scientific methods. In 2214, people will not only remember the first iPS cells but they will also be benefiting from them in their daily lives.
Gürkan Mollaoğlu
Molecular Biology Ph.D. Program, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112–5330, USA.
E-mail: gurkan.mollaoglu{at}utah.edu

The Synthetic Cell. This was a major breakthrough by the Venter Institute in coming out with the first synthetic cell complete with its own synthetic genome. This is the biggest demonstration of the power of synthetic biology in making living systems that are not constrained by natural forces. A sensible application of this technology will open up many possibilities such as industrial process innovation, green chemistry, and creation of new and synthetic ecosystems. I can foresee a system invented in the future which will operate on a cyclic arrangement of different compartment of distinct synthetic cells. The cells feed each other in a continuous fashion while generating electricity to power small devices. We can have SMART phones that are complete with SMART batteries based on synthetic cells designed to function forever. This synthetic cell idea will not only be remembered in 200 years but will empower people to be creative in the biotechnology era and serve to improve life is a fantastic way.
Patrick Kobina Arthur
Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Ghana, Legon-Accra, Ghana.
E-mail: parthur14{at}gmail.com

A popular science fiction movie, Gattaca, envisioned a future where in utero genome profiling would determine a person's life span, health, intelligence, and any other conceivable trait. What if, in addition to understanding the genotype to phenotype relation so well, we could alter genomic makeup to achieve a specific outcome? In 200 years, the recent developments in genome engineering will not only be remembered, but become a standard procedure, like getting a vaccine. The ability to alter and control our very own genomes in such a specific way is unprecedented and will revolutionize science and medicine for years to come. We have set up the foundation for these technologies to be used to manipulate human embryos to functionally cure any genetic disorder from cystic fibrosis to Huntington's disease. As a species we will be able to eradicate whole epidemics, such as HIV, by editing each human genome to encode a resistant mutation (delta-32 CCR5 in the case of HIV). While eradicating disease and improving life quality will be at the forefront of every genome editing ethical discussion, these advances will also penetrate every aspect of our culture. If we can thoroughly understand the relation between genotype and environment to phenotype, we have the tools to completely control our own intelligence, health, life span, and any other conceivable trait. It will be commonplace to request your local genome engineer to, "Please alter this enhancer region so my child has an 80% probability of being at least 1.85 meters tall instead of 1.75 meters."
Brandon S. Razooky
Biophysics Graduate Group, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA.
E-mail: brazooky{at}gmail.com

I am a chemist, and my answer is a chemical material: graphene. Graphene is an ordered form of carbon in a regular hexagonal pattern; it is a single planar sheet of sp2 bonded carbon atoms. Physicists at the University of Manchester and the Institute for Microelectronics Technology first isolated individual graphene planes in 2004. They also measured electronic properties of the obtained flakes and showed their unique properties. These discoveries led to an explosion of interest in graphene. High-quality graphene is very strong, light, nearly transparent, and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Its interaction with other materials and with light, and its inherently two-dimensional nature, produces unique properties. The carbon-carbon bond length in graphene is about 0.142 nm. Graphene sheets stack to form graphite with an interplanar spacing of 0.335 nm. It can also be considered as an indefinitely large aromatic molecule, the limiting case of the family of flat polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Graphene's extraordinary properties will make it a perfect future material; it is good for making transparent touch screens, LCD screens, and composite materials, and it can be used for terahertz technology and sensors. All these applications and others are waiting for us in the future of grapheme. Surely graphene will live for the next 200 years.
Basant Ali Hassan Wali-Eldeen Ali
Faculty of Science, Alexandria University, Alexandria, Egypt.
E-mail: basant_walieldeen{at}alex-sci.edu.eg

Top Online Essays

I'd say nanotechnology, in which everything is scaled down to one billionth of a meter! Physical and chemical behaviors of the nanometer-size materials are interestingly different from their conventional larger sizes. These nanomaterials are now in everybody's home, used in different tools such as smartphones, faster computers with much higher data storage capacities, and rechargeable batteries with longer power lives. In transportation, they've been used to make lighter, but mechanically much stronger composite materials for safer airplanes and cars. They've shown huge potential to be used as reliable and inexpensive sources of clean energies such as solar cells. We are using them every day in toothpastes and cosmetics. Nanomaterials have also revolutionized the biomedical technologies. Doctors are now using these tiny materials for imaging of the different anatomical regions of the body with much higher resolution without doing any surgery. So, they can diagnose and cure the diseases much faster. Lots of studies are ongoing for using these nanomaterials as platforms for loading and carrying the drug molecules only to specific targeted parts of the body and cure diseases such as cancers, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease more efficiently. Following the recent progresses in this field, we will see in a near future that patients no longer suffer from side effects of the conventional chemotherapy treatments, because the drugs only get released in the desired organ in their body. This is just a beginning and we will hear more and more about nanomaterials unique advantages during the 21st century and later.
Hamed Arami
Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
E-mail: arami{at}uw.edu

In my view, the recent development of intracellular multi-electrode array recordings (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23380931) represents an important advance in neuroscience. By combining cellular specificity with a high temporal and spatial resolution, this technique has the potential to substantially improve our understanding of neuronal network function. Intracellular recordings may be especially useful when applied in conjunction with extracellular recordings in behaving mice (e.g., in an apparatus as suggested by Mayrhofer and colleagues www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23054598). Such an approach opens up the possibility of studying the relationship between synaptic potentials, membrane oscillations, action potentials, and local field potentials in different behavioral or sensory conditions. In addition, experiments with mice offer the possibility for genetic manipulations, which allows insights into the function of specific cell types and disease-related genes.
Claudia Susanne Barz
Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine, INM-2, Research Centre Jülich, Jülich, 52425, Germany.
E-mail: c.barz{at}fz-juelich.de

Today is 8 November 2213, and now I am taking Science's NextGen VOICES survey titled "What recent discovery in your field will still be remembered 200 years from now? Why?" through Science Time Travel. Regarding this question, I would say that I don't think there are any magic answers except the recent (just imagine that I am a geneticist living in 2013) exciting discoveries in human genome. Similar to the far-reaching influence of Mendel's laws, the exploration of the human genome in the past decade provides answers to the ultimate questions of life: Where are we from and where are we going? The successful sequencing of human genome, Neandertal genome, and Denisovan genome, as well as the discoveries of ancient DNA and ancient interbreeding, shed light on the early evolution history of humans. Comparatively, the breakthroughs of ENCODE and DARK GENOME have given labels and functions to the noncoding and regulatory regions of our genomes, thereby enabling us to encode the important genetic and evolutionary messages of life. Furthermore, the discovery of human genetic variation gives new views of personal genomics. This finding not only unveils the variations among individual genomes that would decipher the genetics of complex diseases and personal traits, but also forms the foundation of personal gene-therapy of cancer, asthma, and diabetes in our time. Here I am very delighted to talk about these discoveries recorded in our current textbooks with people living in 2013. Time is up, and I have to go back.
Bo Cao
College of Life Sciences, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an, Shaanxi, 710119, China.
E-mail: bocao{at}vip.qq.com

In the field of biochemistry, a recent discovery has come in the form of a new technology that allows for a high-throughput production and capture of proteins: the cell-free protein array. There are several such arrays currently in use and in development; the general concept is one that has revolutionized proteomics by allowing for an economical, elegant method for learning more about proteins. Through the use of cell-free protein arrays, researchers are able to perform high-throughput screens of potential drugs against easily produced druggable targets across a variety of concentrations. In addition to benefiting drug discovery efforts, the technology also allows for the testing of known drugs for repurposing efforts. Repurposing drugs expedites the bench-to-bedside translation of scientific research into real, clinical applications that benefit patients in need of novel treatment methods. In recent years, the cost of drug development has climbed higher and higher, with fewer blockbuster drugs being developed. In the foreseeable two centuries, the cell-free protein array will not only be remembered; it will be widely used in the study of proteomics, the development of novel pharmaceutics, and the discovery of new pathways in molecular biology. It will also be improved upon to better account for its shortcomings, such as in resolving the challenge of post-translational protein modification. The cell-free protein array is a recent biochemistry discovery that opens new doors to scientific progress and improves clinical outcomes, both now and in the next 200 years.
Joseph Michael Cusimano
Chandler, AZ 85225, USA.
E-mail:joecusi{at}hotmail.com

In 200 years, the recent discovery of the boron-boron triple-bond will be remembered fondly by main group chemists, as it will mark a change in the way bonding is taught and discussed. The previous 200 years have witnessed elegant developments in the chemistry of carbon, and by default we use the chemistry of carbon to define what is normal and what is anomalous. The behaviors of heavier main group elements, with their deviations from the standard view of hybridization we teach undergrads, are described as odd despite the important voices telling us all these behaviors are simply related to atomic size. Braunschweig's diboryne, with its alkyne-like linear geometry and orbital structure, proves carbon isn't unique. It proves that the behavior of the sixth element is part of a trend (and at one extreme of that trend, no less!) instead of a mystical chemical standard. When future undergraduate textbooks discuss the chemistry of the main group as a continuum rather than in comparison to carbon, it will be the discovery of the fifth element's triple bond that we have to thank.
William C. Ewing
Wuerzburg, Bayern, 97072, Germany.
E-mail: bewing44{at}gmail.com

It is often the case that ideas from the past are overlooked by modern science because they do not fit in with current ways of thinking (or because they are considered incorrect based on modern understanding). Sometimes, however, the similarities between old ideas and newer ones are noticed, thus helping scientists' broader recollection of the old ideas, regardless of their correctness. For example, the relation of ether theories to modern relativistic ideas shows how old physical theories can be remembered regardless of their accuracy. I therefore suggest that the strength of the concept at the heart of a theory is more important to it being remembered than its accuracy. Another factor that I see as important is our current movement toward more interdisciplinary forms of research, which, if it continues, may substantially alter the development of science. For these reasons it is my opinion that the best remembered ideas in 200 years will be those that began to cross the traditional boundaries of science—being fundamental and conceptually strong without being exclusively linked to one field. The idea that I feel most effectively displays these properties is Universality. This has come to describe the concept of consistency in patterns and structures of form and functionality, often across wide-ranging scales and in very different systems. The remarkable prevalence of this idea and its links with popular subjects like fractal geometry and chaos theory suggest to me that it will continue to have a strong place in many scientists' memories.
George Gabriel
Leeds, LS25 6LY, UK.
E-mail: george.gabriel{at}live.co.uk

Hybrid breeding. Hybrid breeding has made plants more reliable, productive, and nutritious. The development of hybrid breeding has effectively alleviated the world food crisis and saved millions of people around the world from starvation. For example, hybrid rice has the potential to produce significantly higher yields, up to 30% more, than other types of rice. Hybrid corn produces up to 30% more corn for each acre. In China, hybrid rice is credited with contributing to China's high rice yields, which in 2009 averaged around 6.6 tons per hectare—well above the world average of 4.2 tons per hectare in the same year. In 2011, hybrid rice was also grown by farmers in Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Brazil, the United States, and the Philippines. It means that hybrid rice will save more and more people from starvation in the future.
Xuetao Gan
Northwest A&F University, Yangling, Shaanxi, 712100, China.
E-mail: ganxuetao{at}163.com

The major breakthrough in recent neuroscience might be the finding out where the long-term memories are formed. The H.M. case, followed closely by Brenda Miller, was considered a breakthrough related to the hippocampus function and its relevance to psychiatry, neuroscience, and especially mnemonics. Regarding neuroscience, this was the beginning of memory as a study case, with a specific region to investigate, which was completely impossible due to the lack of studies before this discovery.
Bruno Lima Giacobbo
Nervous System Developmental Biology Laboratory, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, 91360170, Brazil.
E-mail: bruno.giacobbo{at}gmail.com

I think that the discovery of the DNA-binding specifics of transcription activator-like effectors ("the TALE code") will still be remembered 200 years from now. The plant pathogen Xanthamonas produces molecules called transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs) that help the parasite take control of the host cell. They do this by behaving like transcription factors activating genes important for the pathogen. Two teams of scientists, one led by Matthew Moscou and the other by Jens Boch, separately discovered the DNA-binding specifics of TALEs. TALEs are made of almost identical repeating structures of approximately 34 amino acids that each bind to a single DNA base. The teams discovered that amino acids correspond directly with the DNA base that the segment binds to at position 12 and 13. This enables scientists to synthesize TALEs that bind to any DNA sequence needed. By connecting TALEs to nuclease enzymes (TALENs) they can be used to modify genetic sequences. There are a few other molecules possessing similar DNA-binding properties and suitable for use in genome modification, but studies are showing that TALENs have better specificity and less off-site activity. Because TALENs are so precise, they could also be used to engineer any part of the human genome. This technology would enable scientists to treat incurable viral infections such as HIV or currently untreatable genetic disorders like Huntington's disease. For these and many other reasons, I think that the discovery of the TALE code will be remembered long into the future.
Dovydas Gricius
Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Kaunas, 50235, Lithuania.
E-mail: Dovydas.Gricius{at}gmail.com

Quantum computing. Quantum mechanics seem quite bizarre, but its nonintuitive properties give a powerful computational advantage to humans. Problems in the complexity class category NP (nondeterministic polynomial time) need tremendous time to solve, but can be simple when it comes to the quantum computer. We also don't need any complex equations or math anymore. We only need powerful simulation software embedded in quantum computers. This will revolutionize our society beyond human capability.
Kyunghun Han
ECE, Purdue, Lafayette, IN 47906, USA.
E-mail: hankh825{at}gmail.com

Advances in surface science are revolutionizing many industrial applications, such as energy-saving materials, anti-fouling materials, and anti-icing materials. Unwanted liquid-surface interactions are a limiting factor nearly everywhere liquid is handled or encountered: They create drag in transport systems, trigger blood clotting, nucleate aircraft icing, and promote fouling, which remains a challenging and unresolved issue despite many decades of research. Inspired by the carnivorous pitcher plant, the slippery liquid-infused porous surface (SLIPS) was recently invented to display a completely different conceptual approach to surface design, which avoids the inherent limits of the traditional strategies [Nature 477, 443 (2011)]. SLIPS shows almost perfect slipperiness toward practically everything—polar and organic liquids, complex liquids like blood and oil, and highly viscous substances like ketchup. Even solid materials like ice, dust, and insects all slide off instantly and effortlessly. Moreover, the surfaces function under extreme conditions, self-heal, and are easily constructed from low-cost materials. I believe SLIPS will still be remembered 200 years from now to meet emerging needs in biomedical fluid handling, fuel transport, anti-fouling, anti-icing, optical imaging, harsh environments, and other areas that are beyond the reach of current liquid repellent surfaces..
Xu Hou
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
E-mail: houx{at}seas.harvard.edu

The recent implementation of using our own immune system to fight cancer will affect the human race over the next 200 years and likely beyond. Cancer hides from our immune system with certain surface proteins. The new technique is simple: Disable cancer's molecular camouflage so that our immune system can do what it evolved to do, destroy dangerous pathogens. This technique could be the key to dealing with cancer once and for all. Effectively curing cancer will have a greater effect on the human life span than any other foreseeable discovery in the near future, even the growth of replacement organs. One can continually replace failing organs, but once cancer erupts, it can metastasize and start growing anywhere. While theoretically possible, replacing one's entire body with artificial organs once this happens is problematic, and impossible if the cancer spreads to the brain. The dramatic extension of human life expectancy will seem incredible at first, but it will certainly be an issue on everyone's mind many years from now, just as fossil fuels and global warming are serious issues now. Mankind will need to figure out how to deal with all those extra people. We already have a poverty problem, now imagine that there is double the number of people, and many of them are over 100 years old! As global leaders struggle to deal with this issue 200 years from now, they will remember the cure for cancer as starting it all.
Alexander Kulchycky Kostiuk
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: kostiuk{at}sas.upenn.edu

The publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. This book documented detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, particularly on birds, and showed that agriculture has substantial and harmful effects on environment. Carson's book started a new revolution: sustainable agriculture, agroecology, and organic farming. As a Ph.D. candidate in agroecology who is interested in ecosystem modeling, I always try to investigate the consequences of previous activities in agriculture. This book led to motivation in the world to make products that are compatible with Earth's environment.
Azam Lashkari
Department of Agronomy, Ferdowsi, Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi, 98, Iran.
E-mail: az_la29{at}yahoo.com

The unveiling of the first documented evidence of a comet striking Earth. It was termed comet Hypatia and it was thrilling to be a part of the discovery team, using spectroscopy to prove the existence of amorphous, graphitic, and diamond materials in the comet nucleus. The stone's origin was similar to that of the yellow-green glassy stone (scarab) at the center of the great Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen's pectoral. Any future comet strike on Earth is likely to be approached with great enthusiasm and studied in comparison with this published discovery. The event will also be remembered for bringing together some great scientists from South Africa and in the world, across multiple disciplines, to bring along expert knowledge that led to the acceptance of the evidence by the international community. Every time a comet roams our skies, this splendid piece of work will be cited and remembered.
Mpho Lekgoathi
Applied Chemistry, The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation Limited, Brits, North West Province, 240, South Africa.
E-mail: mpho.lekgoathi{at}necsa.co.za

One discovery that might be remembered 200 years from now could be non-coding RNA molecules, which have been shown to play important roles in regulating the genome. Non-coding RNAs have been shown to be a part of many disease conditions like cancer, neurodegenerative conditions, and viral infections, not only in animals but also in other multicellular eukaryotes. As many of these molecules have not been characterized yet fully with respect to their structures and functions, they promise to elucidate some of the new aspects of these molecules, which might be helpful in further enhancement of our understanding of the complexity of the life.
Swati Mahapatra
Department of Biochemistry, University Of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, 500046, India.
E-mail:swatireturns{at}gmail.com

Next-generation sequencing (NGS) has transformed biomedical sciences in the past decade. Such technology provides revolutionized potential for diagnostics and therapeutics in clinics. For instance, NGS enables a rapid identification of important mutations for rare genetic diseases, efficient pathogen screening, prenatal diagnosis, cancer diagnosis, and prognosis of common diseases. Most important, these clinical genomic data will be very useful to develop patient-specific therapeutic approaches that will substantially transform the way of treatment and provide interventions with higher efficiency and efficacy. Personalized medicine will be the future for clinical practice. Currently, the challenge for adoption of such technology into the clinics is NGS data analysis. The amount of data being generated is outpacing computational capacity, and decoding such high-throughput clinical genomic information requires very experienced bioinformatics analysts. Robust, accurate, and fast data output is not possible at the moment and the cost of sequencing and hardware for data analysis is expensive. All these factors hinder the transition of NGS technology into clinical applications. Yet, 200 years from now, with the advancement of computing infrastructure, clinical genomic data reports can be easily done for every single person, as simple as making a health identity card, which may be used for monitoring one's health all the time. By then, people will go to the clinics only for preventive measurements, treating the disease even before it happens.
Kingston Mak
School of Biomedical Sciences, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong SAR.
E-mail: kmak{at}cuhk.edu.hk

I think epigenetic control of gene expression will have long-term effects on genetics because it has a huge impact on our understanding of how the cell works and gives new insights on how diseases such as cancer may develop by looking at differences from normal cells on epigenetic level. It may even change our classical view of inheritance considering that elements other than DNA sequence may be meiotically and mitotically heritable. DNA methylation and histone modifications are the most studied epigenetic modifications that affect gene expression probably through chromatin remodeling and represent novel biological targets for new drugs such as histone deacetylase inhibitors which are now being investigated as possible treatment for cancer. So overall, I think the discovery of epigenetic control of gene expression led to an emerging field that attracts many young scientists and will continue to expand our knowledge of genetics and our understanding of human disease.
Taha Mohamed
Human Genetics Depatment, Alexandria Medical Research Institute, Alexandria University, Alexandria, 21221, Egypt.
E-mail: taha.abdelkhaleq{at}yahoo.com

Several major milestones are going to be remembered in our minds, but undoubtedly, the 1983 discovery of the pathogen that caused the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome by Luc Montagnier and Barré-Sinoussi is a game-changer in modern medicine. Once the isolation of HIV was possible, we made substantial progress in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of new cases. Citing a famous Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." In this case, the brilliant initial contribution of French researchers has paved the way to the dream of an AIDS-free generation.
José Alfredo de Sousa Moreira
Instituto de Pesquisa Clinica Evandro Chagas, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
E-mail: josemoreyyra{at}gmail.com

I am a limnologist and my specific research field is aquatic microbial ecology. The use of molecular techniques in microbial ecology has revealed an enormous diversity of microbes, and I think that this finding will still be remembered 200 years from now. In the past decade, the introduction of molecular approaches and massive sequencing to study microbes has greatly increased our knowledge by identifying the smallest microorganisms, allowing the study of their diversity, their multiple roles in the functioning of ecosystems, their response to large-scale environmental and climatic changes, and their phylogeny. It is difficult to identify these microorganisms by simple observation with optical microscopy due to their small size and lack of distinctive taxonomic characters. Besides, cultivation methods do not allow all the microorganisms to grow in an environmental sample and biochemical approaches such as pigment analyses provide only limited taxonomic resolution. Therefore, molecular approaches in microbial ecology have revealed a huge diversity of microorganisms, and I believe that this will be remembered.
Maria Romina Schiaffino
Ecología, Genética y Evolución, Buenos Aires, C1428EHA, Argentina.
E-mail: rominaschiaffino{at}ege.fcen.uba.ar

With the advancement of high-throughput targeted and metagenomic sequencing methods, it has become clear that microbes rule the world. While I say this with a light heart, recent environmental and human microbiome studies have demonstrated time and again just how integral and important microbes are to nearly every facet of life. From decomposing organic matter on the forest floor, to the microflora influencing digestion in our human gut, microbes are dominant, abundant, and probably play a more important role than we can even fathom at this point in our scientific understanding. We currently understand microbes as highly compact molecular entities, capable of resilience, adaptable to new environmental insults, and able to live and survive in almost every environment encountered on Earth. Microbes were here first and will probably be here last, and as we continue to explore the functional implications of microbes and microbial communities in different environments, including the human microbiome, I think we will learn fundamental concepts of cell communication, interactions, molecular efficiency, synergy, and dynamics that will propel many new fields in the next 200 years and beyond.
Michael Strong
Integrated Center for Genes, Environment, and Health, National Jewish Health/University of Colorado, Denver, CO 80206, USA.
E-mail: StrongM{at}NJHealth.org