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Science news digest – 31st December 2013

In this special edition of the science news digest, we look back at some of the bigger science stories of 2013.


The year started out with the news that the UK’s first successful hand transplant took place, with former pub landlord, Mark Cahill, as the recipient. In July, Cahill said that the hand was starting to work, although it was still “a bit clumsy”.

January also saw reports that the Kepler Space Telescope was experiencing problems with its orientation system. Sadly, the glitch couldn’t be fixed, and later in the year, Kepler was officially decommissioned by NASA.



One of the biggest health stories from February was the sudden outbreak of measles in some areas of the UK – over 2,000 cases were reported – the largest outbreak since 1994.

We also saw some incredible amateur footage of the meteor that swept over the Russian city, Chelyabinsk.



In March, there were reports of a child in the US that had been “cured” of HIV following intensive treatment that started shortly after the child’s birth.

The UK’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies warned that hospital “superbugs” posed a huge threat to the UK, and that if the use of antibiotics wasn’t better regulated, “we will find ourselves in a health system not dissimilar to the early 19th century at some point”.

And Alan Turing’s theoretical “Universal Machine” was voted the greatest British innovation in a poll carried out during National Science & Engineering Week 2013.



There was another first for transplants in April – this time in the US – lab-grown kidneys were successfully transplanted into animals, which then started to produce urine.

Commander Chris Hadfield continued to tweet some spectacular images of the Earth as seen from the International Space Station, including one of Berlin at night – where the different colour streetlights revealed the city’s segregated past.



In May, researchers from King’s College London revealed a potential link between vitamin D levels and the severity of asthma symptoms, offering some hope for asthma patients who have become resistant to steroid treatments.

While Cmdr Chris Hadfield was busy tweeting from the ISS, back down on Earth, the exciting news was announced that Major Tim Peake would be making his own trip to the space station in 2015/16 – he will be the first Briton to go into space on a non-commercial flight.



In June, we found out from the Met Office that the spring of 2013 was the coldest for more than 50 years.

Also, it was revealed that one in 13 of us have bendy feet, similar to those seen on tree-climbing apes, which was contrary to the view that humans had evolved rigid feet in order to walk upright.



The Government announced in July that it was pushing ahead with plans to allow the fertility treatment, mitochondrial transfer, following a public consultation carried out by the HFEA.

Researchers in Antarctica also revealed that Lake Vostok – a lake found 2 miles beneath the Antarctic ice – was teeming with life.



Mind control jumped forward in August, when US scientists announced they had created a system that allowed a person to control the movement of a rat’s tail just by thinking about it.

Also rather surprisingly, a new carnivorous mammal was discovered in South America – the olinguito.



At the British Science Festival, archaeologists announced that a dinosaur fossil could be the missing evidence needed to prove the existence of a new distinct species, Nanotyrannus lancensis.

Later in the month, it was revealed that a midday nap could improve the cognitive function of young children, especially their ability to retain learnt information.



In October, researchers discovered that African elephants appear to have an instinctive understanding of human arm gestures, and that marmosets take it in turns when communicating, a speech pattern that appears to be very similar to human conversations.

Boston Dynamics also launched a new video showing their latest robot – WildCat – running at over 25 km/h around a car park completely unaided.



Surgeons in Belgium announced that they had discovered a new ligament in the human knee joint, in November.

In the UK, the national Flusurvey was launched – a study that aims to follow the spread of influenza around the British population – and for the first time this year the survey has also been made available in schools.



And finally… in December, comet Ison kept everyone guessing about whether or not it survived its close encounter with the Sun, researchers discovered that the koala’s deep bellow comes from a unique throat organ, and scientists found that monkeys can eat up to 50 different species of fruit in a day.

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