What to expect in 2019: science in the new year

Gene-editing, open access and a biosafety rethink are set to shape research.


Elizabeth Gibney


Elephant seals carrying sensors will help researchers to gather ocean data as part of a massive mission to study Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier.Credit: Design Pics/NGC




 

2019년 가장 주목해야 할 과학 이슈..."남극 빙하 연구"


해수부, 내년부터 미국 · 영국과 함께 ‘ 

남극 스웨이츠 빙하 변화 연구 ‘ 추진 


   해양수산부(장관 김영춘)가 새롭게 추진하는 연구개발(R&D) 과제가 세계 유명 학술지 ‘네이처(Nature)’가 주목하는 첫 번째 과제로 선정되었다.


지난주 네이처는 ‘2019년 주목해야 할 과학분야 이슈(What to watch for in 2019) 10선’을 발표하고, 그 중 우리나라와 미국, 영국이 2019년 부터 남극 에서 함께 추진할 예정인 ‘스웨이츠 빙하 변화 연구’ 프로 젝트를 1순위 로 꼽았다.


서남극에 위치한 스웨이츠 빙하(Thwaites Glacier)는 이미 붕괴가 진행되고 있으며, 되돌릴 수 없는 상황에 도달했다고 여겨지는 빙하이다.




스웨이츠 빙하 지역은 얼음바닥이 해수면보다 낮아서 따뜻한 환남극 심층수가 침투하기 쉬워 해빙이 가속화하고 있고, 이러한 현상 이 지속될 경우 서남극 빙상 전체의 붕괴를 초래할 것으로 예상 된다.


서남극 빙상이 붕괴되면 해수면이 4.8m까지 상승하여 미래 지구 해수면 상승의 가장 큰 원인이 될 것이며, 우리나라에도 직접적인 영향 을 미칠 수 있을 것으로 예상된다.


       네이처紙 내용(POLAR PROJECTS)

해수부

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우리나라 역시 지난 30년간 한반도 연안 해수면이 전지구 평균 해수면 연간상승률인 1.8mm를 크게 상회하고 있어(동해 2배, 제주도 3배) 관련 연구 추진이 시급한 상황이었다.




그러나 남극 빙하에 대한 지리적, 환경적 접근이 쉽지 않아 그동안은 직접적인 연구를 진행하는 데 어려움이 있었다.


해양수산부는 미국, 영국과 공동으로 연구팀을 구성하여 2019년부터 스웨이츠 빙하 변화 연구를 추진할 계획이다.


스웨이츠 빙하 미-영-한 국제협력 체계(안)/해수부

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해양수산부는 올해 ‘서남극 스웨이츠 빙하 돌발 붕괴가 유발하는 해수면 상승 예측’ 연구 예산을 확보해 내년부터 4년간 200억 원을 지원할 계획이며, 우리나라 연구진은 쇄빙연구선 ‘아라온호’를 활용하여 연구를 수행할 예정이다.




한기준 해양수산부 해양산업정책관은 “이번 네이처지 선정은 세계가 주목하는 연구과제를 우리 나라가 선점했다는 점에서 큰 의미가 있다. ”라며, “한 · 미 · 영 3국이 총 800억 원의 예산을 투입하는 대규모의 국제 공동연구를 통해, 기후변화로 인한 전 지구적 문제 해결의 실마리를 찾을 수 있기를 기대한다.”라고 말했다.

해양수산부


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Polar projects

In January, US and UK researchers will descend on Antarctica to begin their largest joint mission to the continent in more than 70 years. The aim of the five-year project is to understand whether the remote and seemingly unstable Thwaites Glacier will start to collapse in the next few decades. It includes efforts to study ocean conditions near the Florida-sized glacier using autonomous underwater vehicles and sensors affixed to seals. Later in 2019, European scientists plan to start drilling into the ice sheet on Antarctica’s Little Dome C in a quest to recover a 1.5-million-year-old ice core. If they’re successful, the core will yield the oldest pristine record of climate and atmospheric conditions.




Big bucks

China could emerge as the world’s biggest spender on research and development, after adjusting for the purchasing power of its currency, once countries publish their 2018 spending data in late 2019. Outlays on science in China have accelerated since 2003, although the country still trails behind the United States on measures of research quality. Over in Europe, officials will try to agree on how to disburse a proposed €100 billion (US$110 billion) through the European Union’s next research-funding programme, Horizon Europe, which begins in 2021. It’s unclear how fully UK researchers will be able to participate, as uncertainty over Brexit continues to plague the country.


Human origins

More fossils illuminating the origins of ancient hominin species could emerge from islands in southeast Asia — a region of intense interest since archaeologists discovered a human-like ‘hobbit’ species on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. Ongoing digs could reveal more about the first human inhabitants of the Philippine island of Luzon, including whether their isolation led to a diminutive stature, similar to what seems to have occurred on Flores.


Collider crunch

It could be a make-or-break year for plans to build a successor to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Physicists in Japan proposed hosting the roughly US$7-billion International Linear Collider (ILC) in 2012, after scientists at the LHC in Geneva, Switzerland, announced the discovery of the Higgs boson. The ILC would study the Higgs in detail. But a 2018 report commissioned by the Japanese government failed to support the project, citing its cost. Japan is the only country that has shown interest in hosting the ILC, and the government is expected to issue a statement on whether it will do so by 7 March.




Gene-editing fallout

Geneticists will continue to deal with the repercussions of 2018’s claim by He Jiankui to have helped produce the world’s first gene-edited babies. Researchers hope to confirm whether He, a genome-editing researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, modified the genes of two embryos that produced twin girls. Following an international outcry, scientists will attempt to uncover any potential side effects of the process, and create a framework to ensure that any future efforts to edit heritable human DNA — such as that in eggs, sperm or embryos — happen in a responsible and regulated way.


Planning for Plan S

Subscription journals could shift their business models to accommodate Plan S, the effort to flip scholarly publications to a fully open-access model. Publishers have a year before the scheme’s backers will require the researchers they fund to immediately archive papers accepted for publication in free-to-access repositories — a practice that many journals currently forbid. The drive for open science also underpins a 2019 effort by funders and research organizations in the Netherlands that seeks to move away from using citations and impact factors to assess researchers.




Biosafety bible

The World Health Organization expects to finish a major revision of its Laboratory Biosafety Manual in mid-2019. The widely used guidelines outline best practices for the safe handling of pathogens such as Ebola. This is the manual’s first overhaul since 2004. The revisions will increase the focus on creating site- and experiment-specific risk assessments, and on improving the management, practices and training of lab personnel. The rethink aims to discourage labs from approaching biosafety by rote, and encourage the creation of more flexible and effective procedures.


Climate tinkering

As carbon emissions continue to rise, 2019 could see the first experiments that are explicitly aimed at understanding how to artificially cool the planet using a practice called solar geoengineering. Scientists behind the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) hope to spray 100-gram plumes of chalk-like particles into the stratosphere to observe how they disperse. Such particles could eventually cool the planet by reflecting some of the Sun’s rays back into space. Geoengineering sceptics worry that the practice could have unintended consequences and distract from efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The US-led SCoPEx team is awaiting the go-ahead from an independent advisory committee.




 

Canada is set to harvest the results of a boom in marijuana research.Credit: Carlos Osorio/Reuters




High hopes

Researchers in Canada should start to see the first results from a flurry of studies into the cultivation and basic biology of cannabis. In October 2018, the country legalized the plant for all uses — the second nation in the world, after Uruguay, to do so — leading to funding windfalls for marijuana research from provincial and federal governments. By the end of 2019, researchers at the University of Guelph hope to launch Canada’s first dedicated academic centre for cannabis research, which will study everything from the plant’s genetics to its health benefits.


Cosmic signals

The world’s largest radio telescope — China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope — should be fully operational and available to researchers from September. Since the start of its commissioning phase in 2016, the 1.2-billion-yuan (US$170-million) mega-telescope has spotted more than 50 new pulsars: dense, rapidly spinning dead stars. It will soon hunt for the faint signals that emerge from phenomena such as fast radio bursts and clouds of cosmic gas. Meanwhile, astronomers will decide whether to press ahead with building the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Hawaiian mountain Mauna Kea. In 2018, the plans cleared the last of a long series of legal challenges lodged by locals.




Nature 565, 13-14 (2018)

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07847-3


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