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‘Science' declares breakthroughs of the year

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Posted at 6:02 PM, Dec 19, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-30 16:02:39-05

‘Science’ magazine and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have released their annual list of science breakthroughs for 2014.

The winner: Rosetta, the first spacecraft to catch a comet, along with its trusty lander, Philae.

"Breakthroughs should do one of two things: either solve a problem that people have been wrestling with for a long time or open the door to a lot of new research," said Robert Coontz, deputy news editor at Science, in a press release. "In this case, most of the really good science lies ahead."

Rosetta has already quashed an old theory that said Earth’s vast oceans came from comets. Data from the mission, which was launched by the European Space Agency in 2004, will be analyzed for years to come.

Here are the nine runners up, according to Science:

The Dinosaur-Bird Transition

This year, a series of papers compared the fossils of early birds and dinosaurs to modern birds. This revealed how many dinosaurs evolved into birds, which survived the extinction of the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.

Young Blood Fixes Old

Researchers demonstrated that blood from a young mouse can rejuvenate the muscles and brains of older mice. The findings have led to a clinical trial in which Alzheimer's patients are receiving plasma from young donors.

Getting Robots to Cooperate

New software and interactive robots are proving that robots can work together without human supervision.

Neuromorphic Chips

Computer engineers at IBM and elsewhere rolled out the first large-scale "neuromorphic" chips this year, which process information more like a living brain.

Beta Cells

Scientists pioneered two methods for growing cells that closely resemble the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, called beta cells. This gives researchers an unprecedented opportunity to study diabetes.

Indonesian Cave Art

Researchers realized that hand stencils and animal paintings in a cave in Indonesia, once thought to be 10,000 years old, were actually between 35,000 and 40,000 years old. The discoveries suggest that humans in Asia were producing symbolic art as early as the first European cave painters.

Manipulating Memory

Researchers showed that they could manipulate memories in mice using beams of light. The technique, called optogenetics, can delete existing memories and implanting false ones.

CubeSats

Although they've been blasted into space for more than a decade now, cheap satellites with sides that are just 10 centimeters squared, called CubeSats, really took off in 2014. Once considered educational tools for college students, these miniature satellites have started to do some real science, according to researchers.

Expanding the Genetic Alphabet

Researchers have engineered E. coli that harbors two additional nucleotides – X and Y – in addition to the normal G, T, C, and A that make up the standard building blocks of DNA. Such synthetic bacteria can't reproduce outside the laboratory, but they may be used to create designer proteins with "unnatural" amino acids.

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on twitter at @GavinStern.