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Discoveries and dilemmas

Headlines in science point to the beauty of God’s creation, bring promising medical advances, and pose difficult questions

Discoveries and dilemmas

These past 12 months, bioengineers produced reams of research studies that continue to show the most efficient designs are those created by God. And researchers steeped in Darwinian evolution continued to make discoveries that pointed away from that theory and toward our great Creator.

Medical discoveries over the past year held the hope of new and better treatments for our ailments, but also brought new ethical challenges. And archaeological studies unearthed artifacts that uphold the truth of Biblical accounts.

Bioengineers look to God’s designs

Bioengineering research this year, even when done by secular scientists, highlighted the superiority of God’s designs in nature. One physicist imitated the zigzagging movement of eels to create a mini robot that can slither its way through the human bloodstream and deliver drugs to cells or genes.

Aeronautics engineers are working to figure out how wild petunia plants fling their seeds as far as 7 meters at speeds up to 22 mph. And other scientists want to learn more about aerodynamic design by studying the way dandelions scatter their seeds, also for many miles. A fluid dynamics engineer is studying how oranges can propel jets of oil into the air at speeds up to 45 mph. Over a distance of 1 millimeter, these powerful little streams achieve G-force accelerations equivalent to about 1,000 times what astronauts experience during a launch.

In another study, researchers investigated the rainbow circles sported by Philippine snout weevils that provide high color fidelity regardless of the viewing angle. Applications could be useful in any industry that involves color production.

Other scientists want to construct better water filtration systems to mimic how manta rays strain tiny plankton out of huge amounts of water without clogging their filters, develop self-cooling materials inspired by the human body’s ability to maintain a steady temperature, and copy the preying mantis’s visual system to speed up computer processing of 3-D information. —J.B.

Cloned macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua at a Chinese research facility in January

Cloned macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua at a Chinese research facility in January Associated Press/Photo by Jin Liwang/Xinhua

Ethical dilemmas of 2018

Ethically charged experiments this year brought into question what it means to be human and, for Christians, how our scientific advances should honor the fact that we are made in the image of God. Chinese scientists cloned two monkeys this year, representing the first cloning of nonhuman primates and causing many to fear human cloning lurks around the corner.

Japanese scientists turned human blood cells into eggs in a lab dish and hope to make sperm next. Other scientists created baby mice from same-sex parents. Christian ethicists warned these studies represent the first steps down a slippery slope toward designing our own version of humanity far from God’s original design.

Other studies this year showed that CRISPR, the popular gene editing tool, not only changes the genes scientists intentionally target but frequently damages other DNA in a wide and unpredictable variety of gene locations. The unintended gene edits could cause severe consequences, especially if they occur during early embryonic development, when changes could be inherited by all future generations. In the biggest ethics breach reported this year, one Chinese scientist said he had done just that, resulting in gene-edited twin girls. The experiment, announced in late November, abhorred both Christians and secular scientists, who fear the long-reaching implications if such experiments mushroom out of control.

With the growing popularity of artificial intelligence this year, one group of scientists warned that Korea’s leading arms company is developing weapons that could act independently of human control. Such technology could weaponize robots with superhuman strength and abilities, multiplying the potential horrors of war and terrorism.

But 2018 also held some good ethical news: One study found that research using embryonic stem cells, which kills human embryos, offers no advantage over using stem cells derived from adult cells. —J.B.

Cloned macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua at a Chinese research facility in January

Cloned macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua at a Chinese research facility in January Associated Press/Photo by Jin Liwang/Xinhua

Medical advances

Another year brought promising new medical discoveries.

Cancer research this year brought us closer to a quick and easy blood test diagnosis. And many studies are underway to improve treatment options. One team of scientists developed a small brain implant that can deliver drugs specifically to cancerous tumors deep in the brain, minimizing side effects and damage to other brain tissue. Stanford University researchers will soon begin the first human trial of a new chemo-free cancer treatment that cured up to 97 percent of tumors in mice. And scientists in California discovered that a single injection of a naturally occurring protein can block chemotherapy pain in mice for as long as two months with no side effects.

Of course, medical research efforts were not focused solely on cancer. A new nonembryonic stem cell therapy for muscular sclerosis looks promising. Another team of researchers discovered that stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood may help repair cleft palate in children, avoiding more invasive medical procedures. Other scientists discovered a material that could enable the development of a lightweight, wearable, artificial kidney that could make dialysis more convenient, comfortable, and effective. And some doctors recently reported success with a surgical procedure to help children afflicted with the polio-like illness, acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), walk again by transferring a nerve in the leg up to the hip.

Aimmune Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company, developed a peanut-powder capsule that could help desensitize children with severe peanut allergies.

Another study uncovered a way to create medicines that more specifically target problem sites on molecules, potentially making side effect–free drugs feasible. Researchers also developed a freeze-dried polio vaccine that remains stable at room temperature for at least four weeks, potentially solving the problem of transporting vaccines, many of which quickly break down if not kept cool, around the world. And, in a possible response to the opioid crisis in the United States, scientists discovered a nonaddictive pain reliever with the potential to deliver pain relief 100 times stronger than that provided by morphine. —J.B.

Cloned macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua at a Chinese research facility in January

Cloned macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua at a Chinese research facility in January Associated Press/Photo by Jin Liwang/Xinhua

Debunking Darwin

The theory of natural selection predicts populations should gradually improve and become more fit over time, but at least two studies this past year contradicted that notion.

One study revealed that a population’s fitness often decreases over generations. Further, it found only a narrow range of parameters can prevent fitness decline in a species. Likewise, another study showed that ancient humans’ body build allowed more efficient movement than that of modern humans.

Evolutionary theory also postulates there was one common ancestor from which all species evolved over many eons. But, in May of this year, the journal Human Evolution published a paper that could present a different picture. They found genetic evidence that they said showed the human race descended from a few couples, or possibly just one, and that most other animals did, as well. And they all started giving birth about the same time.

Evolutionary scientists argue that apes and humans are kissing cousins on Darwin’s Tree of Life. But research this year showed marked differences in the brain chemicals of humans and primates. Elizabeth Mitchell, physician and writer for Answers in Genesis, said the difference shows not common descent but unique design. J.B.

Cloned macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua at a Chinese research facility in January

Cloned macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua at a Chinese research facility in January Associated Press/Photo by Jin Liwang/Xinhua

Archaeological discoveries

The past year yielded many archaeological discoveries that affirm the truth of Biblical accounts or help us understand the cultural context of many Bible stories. Archaeologic discoveries this year included:

The seal of a governor of Jerusalem during the First Temple Period suggesting, as the Bible indicates, the city served as a major administrative capital of the Judean kingdom during that time. A clay seal bearing the name of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah The ring of Pontius Pilate A 1,500-year-old painting depicting Jesus, the oldest discovered so far Several detailed mosaics from the ruins of a fifth century Roman synagogue showing that, contrary to popular thought, Jewish people flourished under Christian rule during that era. J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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