1. Human Genes Researchers studying the human genome discover that we have just 30,000 genes — far fewer than previously thought. A roundworm has 19,098, a fruit fly 13,601.
2. Alien Atmosphere First detection of an atmosphere on a planet orbiting a distant star. Since an atmosphere is probably a prerequisite for life, this is an important step on the road to a potential E.T.
3. Cloning Humans Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, take first steps toward cloning human embryos. The point is not to mass-produce people but to generate stem cells, the pluripotent cells found in early fetuses, which can be prodded to develop into any type of tissue or organ. From stem cells, scientists hope they will eventually be able to grow new kidney, liver and pancreatic tissues and so on.
4. Monkey Mentats Scientists in France and Iowa discover that baboons may be capable of abstract reasoning. After 5,000 and 7,000 trials, respectively, a male and female baboon learned to recognize similarities between two sets of lighted grids. Two humans took less than 100 trials to figure out the same task.
5. Quantum Holography In a scenario straight out of Alice in Wonderland, physicists at Boston University have come up with a way to take a picture of an object using light that doesn’t even hit the object. It’s a version of holography but one that harnesses the weird power of quantum mechanics. The image is made without ever looking directly at the object, or even at its reflection.
6. Decoding Anthrax Scientists at the Institute for Genomic Research decode the gene sequence of the anthrax bacterium. This sequence will help to illuminate how anthrax wreaks havoc within the human body and hopefully point the way to new kinds of vaccines and cures. It may also lead to genetic fingerprinting of the bacterium — a great tool for tracking anthrax attacks by terrorists.
7. Animal Antibiotics A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. are fed to healthy farm animals; eating such meat contributes to the alarming rise of antibiotic resistance and hence the emergence of difficult-to-treat diseases. In response, TGI Friday’s restaurant chain announced it will get its beef from cattle that are not routinely fed antibiotics. TGI Friday’s sells a million burgers a month.