Nature, one of the most important scientific journals out there, just announced the winners of its 2013 Most Important People of the Year. You’ve probably never heard of many of them.
The winners were chosen based on their work and connections to some of the biggest stories of the year, including the Russian Meteor and the infant who was “functionally cured” of HIV.
You can read the full descriptions of the winners’ work in this week’s Nature. Here’s our synopsis.
Feng Zhang, MIT — For editing DNA.
Zhang is a biologist, but his big development this year is more biochemical in nature. He adapted the RNA sequences that bacteria use to edit DNA to make it easier for scientists to manipulate it cheaply, easily, and precisely in the lab. His finding that this system works in mammalian cells was published Jan.3 in Science.
Tania Simoncelli, The American Civil Liberties Union — Defending the freedom of human genes.
After years of battle, the ACLU finally reached the highest court in the land — the U.S. Supreme Court — to defend the right of human genes to be free. They went up against Myriad Genetics, which had patented the human BRCA gene to use in their breast cancer risk test kit. The ACLU won the case on June 13 of this year.
Deboarah Persaud, Johns Hopkins University — “Functionally” curing a toddler of HIV.
A first in the anti-HIV field, a baby that was infected with HIV when born was “functionally cured” of the virus when doctors started anti-retroviral therapy very early on during its life. It was found to be free of the virus even after five months off of drugs. The find was published in the New England Journal Of Medicine in March.
Michel Mayor, University of Geneva — Finding a sister Earth.
After thousands of exoplanets have been found circling stars out there in the night sky, what’s one more? It’s the most important when that one more is Kepler 78b — the first Earth-like planet found. Mayor and his team found the planet, which is so close to its star that its surface is molten. Mayor found the first exoplanet in 1995, and discovered this latest in October, just before he’d planned to retire.
Naderev Saño, Philippines delegate to the U.N. — Fasting for climate change.
When Typhoon Haiyan ravaged his home country of the Philippines, Saño was at the United Nations climate talks in Warsaw. After a tearful and moving speech, he fasted for 14 days until the delegates reached a deal to keep climate negotiations on track.
Viktor Grokhovsky, Ural Federal University — Hunting down the Russian Meteorite.
After the Chelyabinsk meteor exploded over Russia in February, Grokhovsky spent weeks tracking down individual pieces of the space rock. He worked to analyse the meteor’s trajectory as it entered the atmosphere, and analysed how big it might have been when it exploded.
Hualan Chen, of China’s National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory — For tracking the new H7N9 bird flu virus.
Less than two days after confirming a new and deadly bird flu virus was infecting people in China, Chen’s team set to work to find out where it was coming from — the live poultry markets in Shanghai. The quick (and transparent) reaction to the emerging virus has been widely appreciated by the world’s infectious disease community. She also published a paper describing what mutations it would take to make the virus jump between mammals better.
Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Oregon Health & Science University — For cloning cells from an embryo.
Embryonic stem cells made with a person’s own DNA would hold the potential to cure any number of diseases. After years of fighting red tape to do this cloning experiment in humans, Mitalipov created a stem cell line with all the properties of an embryonic stem cell but also all the DNA of the donor “adult” skin cell. His work was published in the journal Cell in May.
Kathryn Clancy, University of Illinois, Champaign — Unearthing sexual harassment in the field.
After hearing stories of women being sexually assaulted while doing fieldwork, Clancy took action and started polling colleagues about their experiences. She found that 59% of people responding to their survey had experienced inappropriate sexual comments, and 18% reported physical harassment.
Henry Snaith, Oxford Photovalics — For making better solar panels.
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