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The 10 Most Important People for Science of 2019, According to Nature

As every year, the famous scientific journal Nature has drawn up its list of the most relevant personalities in the world of science ; But this year, the list has not been without controversy.

The decision to include 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg on the list has surprised some, given that she shares a position of importance with 9 scientists who have excelled in disciplines such as CRISPR, the technique of gene editing; the knowledge of our brain, quantum computing, space exploration, and even, eminences like the co-discoverer of Ebola.

Ecology has occupied a large part of the 2019 scientific agenda, so not only Greta, but also two other characters (in this case, scientists) related to her work in defense of the environment have been recognized in the famous list.

We are going to review what these personalities have been (in no order of importance).

Ricardo Galvão, physicist: in defense of science in Brazil

The 72-year-old physicist Ricardo Galvão confronted the president of Brazil, Bolsonaro, defense of science and against authoritarianism, before the sharp peak in the cutting of forests that the Amazon has been experiencing since 2012. After Bolsonaro accused Scientists lying about the data, Galvão drew up a brilliant answer that was applauded by civil society and his fellow scientists, which has made him a true hero.

Victoria Kaspi, the astronomer in search of the mysterious fast radio bursts

The astronomer Victoria Kaspi led the project of capturing fast radio bursts of the CHIME telescope, today, the best instrument we have to carry out this work.

Most surprisingly, the CHIME telescope was originally designed to map hydrogen emission from distant galaxies, to answer questions about the origin of our universe. But Kaspi realized that the telescope’s sensitivity and large field of view could be ideal for capturing FRBs. His role was key in finding funding for the project.

Nenad Sestan, the neuroscientist who ‘revived’ brains of dead pigs

Nenad Sestan is famous for making a groundbreaking discovery, which took place in 2016, which has allowed us to rethink the border between life and death: he found electrical activity in the brains of dead pigs.

Sestan’s team removed the organs shortly after death and infused them with oxygen and an ice-cold preservative. In doing so, the brains were brought back to life, at least partially.

Does that mean Sestan figured out how to create zombies? Not quite. A neurologist would confirm later that the observed activity was not generalized and coordinated, so there is no sign of consciousness.

In addition to the ethical implications of this delicate discovery, Sestan’s work may help to reconsider the definition of brain death , in addition to laying the foundations for a technology capable of preserving organs for transplantation.

Sandra Díaz, defender of biodiversity

Nature has dubbed it the ‘guardian of biodiversity’. Argentine Sandra Díaz is one of the 144 researchers – the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) – who have authored the most exhaustive study on biodiversity in the world: one million species are heading for extinction, due to to human activities.

Its final report, which spans 1,500 pages, says nations will not meet most global goals in biodiversity and sustainable development unless they make massive changes , such as abandoning the idea that economies must constantly grow. Díaz decided to be positive: he challenged the idea that ecosystems and their benefits for humans, such as food or climate regulation, depend largely on having a large number of species.

Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, the co-discoverer of Ebola who continues to save lives

In 1976, Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum traveled deep into the tropical forests of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to investigate an outbreak of an unidentified disease that was rapidly killing people: it was the virus later called Ebola

Now, 43 years after discovering the disease, Muyembe is leading the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s response to the most volatile outbreak of Ebola yet. Since August 2018, the epidemic has killed more than 2,200 people in the northeast of the country.

In the final weeks of 2019, Muyembe led a clinical trial of 680 people, with a survival rate of 90%. Your contribution is being essential to control a chaotic outbreak.

Yohannes Haile-Selassie, the paleontologist who found the oldest hominid

Haile-Selassie’s team found the remains of a complete skull of an early hominin, Australopithecus anamensis. But it was not just any hominid, it was the oldest human relative: 3.8 million years ago.

Some say this find rivals only Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old fossil of the Australopithecus afarensis species. The team is still studying the skull for more clues about its place in prehistory.

Wendy Rogers, Transplant Ethics Advocate

Wendy Rogers, a bioethicist from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, is one of the people who has questioned the origin, by China, of livers, hearts and kidneys in certain transplantation practices. For two decades, scientists suspected that these organs came from prisoners, and were obtained illegally. When the Government denied the facts, alluding that they came from volunteers, some people decided to get to the bottom of the matter.

Rogers and his team uncovered more than 400 reports in which doctors were unable to prove that donors had consented. Those documents, published between 2001 and 2017, reported more than 85,000 transplants.

Today, Rogers’ list continues to grow, in one of the most important bioethical scandals in the world.

Hongkui Deng achieved promising results using CRISPR against the HIV virus

Hongkui Deng’s lab at Peking University in Beijing demonstrated how gene editing via CRISPR can create a potentially limitless supply of cells that are immune to HIV infection.

In 2008, Timothy Ray Brown became the first known person to clear the virus, thanks to a bone marrow transplant; but this protective mutation found in the donor was very rare, and practically non-existent in China, Deng’s country of origin.

That’s when Deng decided to try editing the gene: He took immunologically compatible stem cells from a donor’s bone marrow, edited them with CRISPR-Cas9, and then transplanted them into a person with leukemia and HIV.

Did you achieve the same success story as Brown’s Berlin patient? Unfortunately, no: for safety reasons, Deng used only 18% modified cells, so the HIV infection remained in the patient. Deng hopes in the short term to transplant a greater proportion of gene-edited cells.

John Martinis, pioneer in quantum computing

John Martinis stands out for leading the creation of a quantum computer capable of performing a calculation much faster than the best of conventional computers.

Martins was influenced since the 1980s by the famous Richard Feynman, the first to work on the idea of using the quantum characteristics of particles to make superpontent computers.

The feat required the work of 70 scientists and engineers, and resulted in a surprising challenge: The machine, called Sycamore, could do in 200 seconds what they estimated would take 10,000 years for the best supercomputer of the day.

Greta Thunberg, the controversial climate activist

“I don’t want them to listen to me, I want them to listen to the scientists.” The recognition of the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg on this list can be controversial. But it is undeniable that his role has mobilized hundreds of people around the planet with the aim, not only that their voice is heard, but that of the members of the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change).

As the journal Nature itself recognizes: “scientists have spent decades warning about climate change, but they have not been able to capture world attention as Thunberg has done this year 2019.”

According to Angela Ledford Anderson, director of the Climate and Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington DC: “Their mobilization of young people shows that younger generations expect science to inform politics, and may inspire many adolescents to become themselves into scientists . “

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