The best of science in 2021 – Editor’s choice
In 2021, the pandemic continued under new avatars, presenting us with different challenges. Intrepid researchers have delved into distant fields of science, and we, at Research questions has strived to bring these fascinating finds to the fore.
As we move into 2022, it’s time to reflect on the stories we’ve published over the past year. It was difficult to say “the best of them are…” as each has had its own impact. However, the editorial team of Research questions carefully curated ten exciting stories (in no particular order of preference) that stood out – worth repeating (maybe again). Our choice ranges from our ongoing understanding of the ecosystem to building a lab-on-a-chip that finds utility for biological experiments in space. We are sure you will find them absorbent.
The rules of nature
Among our main interests are research in ecology, conservation, climate change and everything related to nature. So obviously these stories caught our attention first. Read on to find out more.
If you think humans have superior vision, think again. The elusive and delicate butterflies and butterflies may not have a well-developed sight like ours; however, their ability to perceive the environment is far superior to ours. Scientists use a parameter called “flicker fusion frequency, FFF, to measure the speed of response.” Butterflies and moths look at the world differently: evolution’s fault is the story of a fun activity that turned into a research study. Researchers at NCBS and TIFR, Bengaluru, and IISER, Pune, analyzed FFF variations in moths and butterflies to determine their daytime and night-time detection abilities.
Not wasteland, but flourishing ecosystems alerts us to our distorted perception of waste and arid landscapes. Contrary to popular belief, they are teeming with endemic species of flora and fauna, which are in desperate need of protection, according to researchers at ATREE, Bengaluru. In addition, the researchers point out that unfortunately, these landscapes are the target of renewable energy farms and eco-measures, which further compromises the situation. This must-read interview shows how researchers mapped these landscapes of India so that they are accessible to everyone for scrutiny.
Having said that, this brings us to A holistic approach to biodiversity conservation. A study by another ATREE research team shows that current policies for protected areas, forest boundaries and human settlements do not take into account the livelihoods of tribal communities that survive in and on the forests. Read this compelling account of how the research team and a few local organizations set an example of inclusiveness and coexistence.
Math to the rescue
In Bridged: Gaps Between Mathematical Methods of Understanding Nature, we get a glimpse into the history and nuances of how certain mathematical approaches have helped understand our world over the decades. The advent of computers and algorithms spurred him on. Read this story about how an IISc team used a missing facet of an earlier mathematical approach. Their modified version can greatly improve our understanding of particle physics.
Computer scientists use numeric methods to generate random numbers to secure data encryption. However, the sequences are not entirely “secure”. Who knew, the principles of Brownian motion – a natural phenomenon of the random motion of solid particles suspended in a fluid – could provide ideas for generating safe sequences of random numbers! A natural process may hold the key to secure encryption of communications delves into this intriguing experiment conducted by researchers from IISER-Kolkata.
Breakthroughs in Biology
We are on the brink of a new wave of COVID-19. While RT-PCR tests can tell us if we have the infection, unfortunately they cannot tell us how severe the disease is. We have found How serious is the Covid-19 infection? a relevant proofreading at this stage. Researchers at IIT Bombay and Kasturba Hospital for Infectious Diseases found that the presence of specific viral or host proteins in swab samples could indicate the severity of the disease. Certainly, a valuable resource for the efficient distribution of health services. Read on to find out more.
As the world occupied with the pandemic, a research team from ACTREC in Mumbai made strides in treating cancer. Their study (in clinical trials) found that daily medications may not be needed to prevent lung cancer from re-growth. Instead, they show that a weekly dose of the pill would suffice. Read Study finds weekly cancer pill instead of daily pill is enough to prevent regrowth to learn more about the details of the experience.
Receptor molecules on cells respond to external environmental triggers in a number of ways. We are still unraveling the mysteries of these molecular mechanisms, which hold the key to the development of advanced drugs for many diseases. Silent Receivers Discovered Are Not So Quiet is an account of one such fascinating research. In a collaborative study, scientists at IIT Kanpur, Tohoku University, Japan, McGill University, Canada, and the University of Queensland, Australia, found that a known receptor used an unconventional pathway and, in fact, a pathway that stops the protein response for signaling. Now, would this discovery rewrite the textbooks? Read on to find out more.
We are making progress in space ventures and are ready to build habitats on the moon. For this, the scientists propose to use a bacterial process called calcite precipitation induced by microbes to convert the lunar soil into building material. For this, bacterial experiments must be carried out in space. Since sending bulky lab equipment into space is an expensive affair, researchers at IISc, Bengaluru, collaborated with scientists at ISRO and downsized the equipment! Lab in a capsule: a modular device for biological experiments in space presents this fascinating research.
And, finally, as each of us is the primary actor in investing in science, effective and broad communication of science is of paramount importance. The writer of We must be aware of the privileged hegemony of castes in science and its communication sees India’s science communication roadmap from a different perspective. In choosing an event, this opinion piece raises relevant questions that warrant further reflection on how we communicate science. The story highlights the linguistic diversity in India, noting the lack of science communicators in regional languages. The article emphasizes the need to communicate science in regional languages without propagating inherent biases that would otherwise confine communication to a limited audience.
As we wrap up the activities for the year, we are excited about the year ahead and another amazing trip with you. So stay tuned to assuage your scientific temper as we bring you many more exciting science stories wrapped in lucid narratives.
Stay connected with us as always on our social media platforms.
Research questions wish you a healthy, safe and spectacular year ahead!