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article imageDigital Journal's top science stories of 2014 Special

By Tim Sandle     Nov 24, 2014 in Science
2014 has seen a myriad of fascinating science news. Digital Journal looks back at the year in science and selects the 12 most interesting stories that have impacted people's lives around the world.
Selecting the top science stories from 2014 hasn't been an easy task. Using a remit of picking those stories with a wide global impact and which are impacting on, or have the potential to shape, people's lives, one key science story has been highlighted for each month of the year.
Neurodegenerative diseases are invariably an emotional issues, for those diagnosed with conditions like Alzheimer's in the early stages and for the families who watch loved ones decline, through to the health workers who provide care. Any news that promises a step forwards in terms of treating such conditions is always welcomed. In January, we reported on new research that suggested that a daily dose of vitamin E could help people with dementia. This was based on a study, carried out at Mount Sinai in New York, that showed people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease on high doses of vitamin E had a slower rate of decline than those given a dummy pill. The results were promising enough to lead to a clinical trial using human volunteers be set-up. Preliminary results are expected next year.
A female specimen of a zebrafish (Danio rerio) breed with fantails
A female specimen of a zebrafish (Danio rerio) breed with fantails
There are many possibilities that science could delivery in terms of improving human health. One of the gold prizes is bone regeneration. As we revealed in February, a group of scientists think that the answer to this lives with the study of zebrafish, which are found in the Himalayan region. The zebrafish is quite remarkable. The fish has two molecular pathways that work in concert to allow adult zebra fish to perfectly replace bones lost upon fin amputation. Scientists are getting close to discovery how this process works and hope that, one day, such research can lead to people "re-growing" their own limbs.
The material of the year is, without question, graphene. Graphene is a single-layer mesh of carbon atoms. Graphene is a material suited for electronic devices due to its ability to conduct electricity at super-fast speeds. The material has many other potentials. In March we found out that blood clots on medical devices, the sort used in surgery, can be reduced by using a graphene-based material. The material is light and it can be coated with a blood absorbing chemical. The promises to make surgery safer.
Connections between different illnesses can ultimately help people. In April, Digital Journal outlines some research that demonstrated a link between people with Down syndrome and people at a heightened risk of developing leukemia during childhood has been uncovered through a new study harnessing advanced medical testing. Here, scientists tracked the genetic chain of events that links a chromosomal abnormality in Down syndrome to the cellular havoc that occurs in leukemia.
Wine drinkers swirl wine in the glass to release its fragrance  called the  bouquet.
Wine drinkers swirl wine in the glass to release its fragrance, called the "bouquet."
Will Keightley (CC BY-SA 2.0)
It always nice when science supports food that might appear unhealthy or suggests that the odd tipple is good for us. The most interesting story we ran in May was headlined that red wine can help fight tooth decay. Delving down, the story was about how polyphenols, grape seed extract and wine, can slow bacterial growth. This is especially with the bacteria that trigger tooth decay. Unfortunately, any medication developed will be based about the extracted chemicals rather than with being prescribed a good bottle of claret!
Keeping consumers safe from food poisoning is a perennial issue. However, each scientific advancement should make this area a little safer. In June we reported on an advancement in the understanding of how botulism infects. Botulism is a sometimes fatal paralytic illness due to a neurotoxin produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which can appear in rotted, uncooked foods and in soil. Dealing with such infections might be easier now that the means by which bacterial toxins that cause food-borne botulism are absorbed through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream has been revealed. This could lead to a new way of blocking the toxin.
Simulated view of a black hole in front of the Large Magellanic Cloud
Simulated view of a black hole in front of the Large Magellanic Cloud
Alain R.
How dark is dark? The answer, we found out in July, is as dark a "Vantablack". Vantablack is a new material developed by the U.S. company Surrey NanoSystems. What is remarkable about the material is how dark it is; no other material has been made that absorbs so much light. The special darkness means that the material can be used in astronomical cameras, telescopes and infrared scanning systems, to make each function more effectively.
A pine cone
A pine cone
Digital Journal champions citizen-led journalism. Keeping with this, it was good to be able to report on a valuable citizen science story in August. Here, scientists located the environmental source of fungal infections that have been sickening HIV patients in Southern California. The discovery is based on the science project of a 13-year-old girl, who spent the summer gathering soil and tree samples. It was confirmed that three tree species — Canary Island pine, Pohutukawa and American sweetgum acted as environmental hosts for the fungus and acts as sources of many of these human infections.
Tom Varco (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Of all the health related problems facing the planet, antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest. Through 2014 Digital Journal has run several features on this key issue. Antimicrobial resistance, as I've written in the journal Microbiology & Infectious Diseases:"describes the ability of a micro-organism to resist the action of antimicrobial drugs. In a few instances some microorganisms are naturally resistant to particular antimicrobial agents; however, a more common problem is when microorganisms that are normally susceptible to the action of particular antimicrobial agents develop resistance."
There are many reasons that have aided the spread of antibiotic resistant microorganisms. One which highlights foolhardy human activities has been the over-use of antibiotics on farms (in order to fatten up meat). The problem is that, as a 2014 study found and which we reported on during September, is where over half of farm workers who look after animals in industrial hog farms carry home hog-related bacteria in their noses. This is potentially harmful for the farm workers and their families, as well as for the wider community.
A berry from the Australian blushwood tree
A berry from the Australian blushwood tree
While there have been many human-produced scientific inventions that have made life better, time and time again scientists turn back to nature for ideas and sources of chemicals with medicinal value. However, could anything be more remarkable than cancer curing berries growing on a tree? Our top October science story was that a berry found only in Far North Queensland has previously unknown cancer-fighting properties. The berry grows on the blushwood tree and early trials show that the natural anti-inflammatory compounds can reduce the size of tumors.
Science can inform about health matters, and one alarming finding was reported on in November. This was that a high consumption of milk by women is associated with an increased risk of cancer and bone damage. The Swedish study found that women who drank three or more glasses of milk per day were almost twice as likely to die as those who drank less than one glass per day. Although worrying, this type of study requires more supporting evidence before any health policy recommendations are drawn-up.
A mico chip on the the edge of a finger
A mico chip on the the edge of a finger
Samidha Verma
In drawing the Digital Journal science year to an end, we ran a fascinating story on nanotechnology. More and more scientific achievements, especially in the medical field, are based on nanotechnology. Researchers are close to constructing nanoparticles to be used to detect reactive oxygen species that tend to correlate with disease. This means tracking cancer through the body and stopping it early.
Digital Journal's science coverage continues to develop and to capture the cutting edge news. We would like to thank our readers for supporting the science pages and we will continue to offer high quality and ground breaking stories throughout 2015.
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