The journal Nature has named its Top 10 people who mattered in science in 2018, and there’s one controversial name on the list.
Chinese scientist He Jiankui captured global attention last month when he announced he had edited the genomes of twin baby girls, though neither proof nor a peer-reviewed journal paper was offered. This drew widespread condemnation over concerns that he had ignored ethical considerations and exposed the infants – if they exist – to potential risks.
But then, as Nature’s chief features editor Rick Monastersky says, some memorable scientific events “force us to confront difficult questions about who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going”.
Also on the list are other movers and shakers the journal has dubbed the graphene wrangler, the CRISPR rogue and the star mapper.
Palaeogeneticist Viviane Slon helped make one of 2018’s most surprising discoveries when she and her colleagues sequenced DNA from a 90,000-year-old bone and found that it came from the offspring of a union between a Neanderthal mother and a father from the extinct human group known as Denisovans.
Physicist Yuan Cao was only 21 when he helped discover a trick to make graphene capable of conducting electricity without resistance, launching a new area of physics.
Another physicist, Jess Wade, made news through her remarkable efforts to raise the profile of women and people of colour in science, including by writing hundreds of Wikipedia entries for female scientists.
Robert-Jan Smits made waves in publishing by launching Plan S, a bold effort to make more scientific papers open access.
Open data was also central to the work of Barbara Rae-Venter, who used public genome data to help identify the Golden State killer, who committed multiple murders in California during the 1970s and 1980s.
Another data set preoccupied astronomer Anthony Brown, whose team coordinated the release of a massive trove of information from the Gaia spacecraft, which has tracked more than a billion stars.
Meanwhile, Makoto Yoshikawa led the Hayabusa2 mission at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to visit a dumpling-shaped asteroid to collect samples and then return them to Earth.
Climate researcher Valérie Masson-Delmotte had a key role in the stark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned that nations might have only a dozen years before Earth’s temperature reaches a point that would transform ecosystems and destroy many coral reefs.
And finally, Bee Yin Yeo, Malaysia’s minister of energy, science, technology, environment and climate change, is featured for leading environmental efforts to reduce single-use plastics.
You can read more about everyone on the list here.
Nick Carne is the editor of Cosmos Online and editorial manager for The Royal Institution of Australia.
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