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Top science news stories of 2010

By Manoj Kumar Ramesh

London, Dec 24 (ANI): 2010 was a turbulent time for the world in terms of the natural calamities that occurred but it was also a year that hailed major scientific discoveries that would change the way we live. Here are the top science stories of 2010:

1. A magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in January, which left 230,000 dead and a further 1 million homeless. Other earthquakes, including a magnitude-8.8 quake in Chile in February and a magnitude 7.1 in New Zealand in September, also caused widespread damage, but smaller death tolls, reports Nature.

2. Mount Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland erupted causing mass chaos. It grounded commercial flights across Europe for a week in April, stranding thousands of travellers.

3. Heavy rains related to the La Nina cooling of the Pacific Ocean flooded one-fifth of Pakistan and affected an estimated 20 million people. Russia also experienced the hottest summer in its recorded history, unleashing hundreds of deadly wildfires.

4. On 7 May, researchers announced the results of a genetic analysis of nearly 2,000 people from around the world, which yielded signs of gene flow between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens around the time that modern humans first migrated out of Africa some 50,000-60,000 years ago.

A genome extracted from a 30,000-50,000 year-old finger bone found in a Siberian cave revealed a new hominin group and indicated that the group interbred with a particular band of human migrants that were ancestors of today's Melanesians.

5. Researchers revealed in July that an antiretroviral microbicide gel cut HIV infection by up to 54 percent in women who used it regularly.

Another breakthrough came in November, when a study of nearly 2,500 men showed that the antiretroviral drug Truvada is an effective preventative measure.

Among homosexual men, those who took the drug consistently lowered their risk of acquiring the virus by 73 percent.

6. Maryland researchers announced on May 20 May that an artificial genome inserted into a bacterium had successfully commandeered the cell and commenced replication.

While some researchers considered the move to be a significant advance over conventional genetic engineering, others argued that there was a still a long way to go as far as designing and constructing novel bacteria from scratch is concerned.

7. Climate-change policy stalled: In January, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, chaired by Rajendra Pachauri learnt that a 2007 report had erred when it stated that all glaciers in the central and eastern Himalayas could melt by 2035. The mistake resulted in withdrawal of a bill that would have established a cap-and-trade system for domestic industry's carbon emissions.

But the Cancun meet brought some good news when participants agreed to set a goal of limiting average warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

8. Gulf of Mexico spill: Caused by BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig on 20 April, the spill killed 11 workers and by August, the damaged well had dumped nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, spewing as much as 62,000 barrels a day at its peak.

The well was capped on 19 September with cement, but no one had a clue as to where the oil had disappeared. Later, researchers discovered a layer of precipitated oil on the sea floor.

9. On 23 August, federal district court judge Royce Lamberth ordered a ban on embryonic stem-cell research - a move that overrode Obama's order of mandating the National Institutes of Health to develop a policy for the approval of new stem-cell lines.

But on 9 September, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a stay on the injunction, allowing federal funding to continue until the court rules on whether Lamberth's injunction should stand.

10. On 16 November, a Japanese capsule bearing asteroidal dust was discovered. The mission had touched the surface of the Itokawa asteroid twice in November 2005 and was the first to retrieve asteroidal material and return it to Earth for study.

However, a month later, its Akatsuki spacecraft failed to enter orbit around Venus, instead sailing past the planet into interplanetary space. (ANI)

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