What We've Learned From Science This Year

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Lisa Winter

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416 What We've Learned From Science This Year
Le Maho et al, Nature Methods.

Now that we're on the last day of 2014, let's reflect on some of the finer lessons we were taught by science this year.

It's possible to restore a sense of touch through bionic prosthetics. Building off of the past 20 years of research, Dustin Tyler's lab at Case Western Reserve University was able to create a prosthetic that connected to the nerve bundle in an amputee's arm. Not only were the nerves able to control the device, but it was able to offer signals, allowing the user to experience tactile feedback.


A meta-analysis confirmed what we've all known for years: there is no link between autism and  vaccines. The study examined over 1.25 million children, and there was absolutely no link discovered between the administration of childhood vaccines and the onset of autism. Take that, Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy!

Russian geckos have sex that is out of this world. Five geckos were launched into space in order to find out how zero gravity would affect their mating habits. The ill-fated mission was bumpy throughout its duration, with communication between the satellite and ground control being lost for a week. Sadly, the cosmolizards appeared to have died a week before their scheduled landing back on Earth.

Humans can land spacecraft on comets. Ten long years after launching, the ESA's Rosetta spacecraft finally hooked up with its intended target: Comet 67/P C-G. Later, the Philae lander became the first manmade object to perform a soft landing on the surface of a comet. Though problems with lander's location cut the mission short, Philae was able to return a tremendous amount of science data, including evidence of organic molecules.

Mantis shrimp vision isn't as cool as we thought. Though mantis shrimp have four times as many kinds of color-sensitive cone cells in their retinas compared to humans, they might not have an explosive, rainbow field of vision. A study published in January doesn't exactly corroborate that hypothesis. In fact, it's more likely that mantis shrimp sacrifice the ability to decipher different shades of color in the interest of perceiving information more quickly.


Kissing for only 10 seconds can transfer up to 80 million bacteria. This one is especially important to keep in mind before the ball drops at midnight tonight. By introducing specific types of bacteria into the mouth of one partner, scientists were able to determine that French kissing for a few seconds transfers a great deal of bacteria. However, there are approximately 90 trillion microbes within the human body, so is it really that big of a deal to swap a few around?

Illegal loggers and drug traffickers are assholes who threaten the existence of indigenous Amazonian tribes. This one might not be as upbeat as the others, but it is definitely worth talking about. An indigenous tribe on the border of Peru and Brazil were forced to abandon their land and homes after being threatened by the presence of illegal loggers and drug traffickers. The people were forced to make contact with outsiders for the first time, and some of the tribe members were confirmed to have contracted influenza, against which they have no natural immunity.

If you want to study penguins, you must become a penguin. In order to make up close and personal observations of penguin colonies, researchers have begun to utilize a remote controlled rover that is dressed up to look like a penguin chick (see above picture). This allows the equipment to blend in, and capture images of the penguins up close without raising any concerns, in a more natural environment.

Having a fully developed brain isn't a requirement for living a normal, fulfilling life. After experiencing a lifetime of vertigo and delays related with walking and speech, it was discovered that a 24-year-old Chinese woman was born with cerebella agenesis, that is, she was born without a cerebellum. The woman was able to get married and give birth to a daughter who was not born with this condition, indicating that it likely isn't genetic.


Painting puppies to look like baby pandas for a circus is bad business practice. What's the difference between a giant panda and chow chow puppies? Well, quite a bit, actually. However, an Italian circus literally banked on the fact that some people didn't notice. Orfei Circus, based out of Bescia, Italy, had painted the pooches to look like pandas, and charged patrons to get their pictures taken with the animals. Though the circus was able to beat animal cruelty charges, they aren't permitted to continue using the dogs for photo-ops.