Year in Review: God’s design on display
Scientific discoveries show the Creator’s touch
Here are some of the top science stories from 2022:
Update on jailed scientist
Just before the Christmas season began in 2018, I wrote an article about an experiment that rocked the scientific world. He Jiankui, a Chinese genetic engineer, announced he had produced the first gene-edited babies by modifying the DNA of twin girls and later a third baby girl. Experts called the experiment, which introduced permanent, heritable changes into the babies’ DNA, unethical and reckless. In December 2019, a Chinese court convicted Jiankui and sentenced him to three years in prison. In April, he was freed. On Nov. 9, Jiankui posted photos of himself to Twitter and announced he had moved into a new office in Beijing. Jiankui said his new lab is a not-for-profit medical research institute focusing on developing therapies for rare genetic diseases. Efforts to safeguard the privacy of the gene-edited twins, Lulu and Nana, and the third child, Amy, mean there is little public information about how they are doing now. But some scientists fear they may carry unintentional off-target gene edits that could cause difficulties for them as they grow.
A partridge in a pear tree?
It might seem festive and a little romantic to think about a partridge nesting in a pear tree on the first day of Christmas—but maybe not so much if that tree is a Callery pear tree. In an April Beginnings newsletter, I wrote about the invasive menace that such pear trees have become. Experts originally imported them to the United States hoping they could save pear orchards devastated by drought and blight. They quickly became popular landscaping trees because they bloom several times per season, have waxy leaves that repel bugs, and flourish in various soils and climates. But now they are overwhelming native plants. The seedlings sport 4-inch spikes that can punch holes in tractor tires. Attempts to mow or burn them result in a proliferation of new sprouts, and the beautiful white blossoms smell like rotting fish, according to some. They grow in more than 30 states, and many regions now ban them.
The Christmas spider
Although I am not a fan of spiders, somehow they seem associated with Christmas. They may come crawling off the freshly cut Christmas tree when the warmth of the house encourages their eggs to hatch, or they may surprise us in the boxes of ornaments we bring down from the attic. In April, I reported on a study of orb-weaver spiders that make webs so huge that the surface area measures 10,000 times larger than the spider itself. The gigantic web acts as an acoustic antenna that allows the arachnids to hear through it and localize the direction of the sound with 100 percent accuracy. The researchers said the finding could help design supersensitive microphones for hearing aids and cellphones, proving yet again that God’s designs are the best.
Following the star
After the birth of Jesus, an unusual star guided the Magi to find him. In July, the James Webb Space Telescope uncovered a puzzling star, an estimated 5,600 light-years from Earth. Scientists were baffled by what could cause the concentric, square-shaped ripples that emanate from it and then fade away. Further analysis revealed that the ripples are 17 dust rings produced when two stars are locked in a celestial dance with one another. When the stars come close together, the streams of gas they blow into space meet, compress, and form dust. The orbits of the stars bring them into proximity about every eight years. Just as the rings of a tree trunk mark the age of the tree, the ripples of dust from these two stars mark the passage of time.
Mistletoe and human egg cells
In a July Beginnings newsletter, I wrote about a scientific discovery that shows human egg cells are the only egg cells of any terrestrial mammal that lack a specific protein/enzyme combination known as complex I. The only other type of living cell known to survive with depleted complex I levels are those of the mistletoe plant. A study published in Nature discovered that the absence of complex I allows human egg cells, which form during fetal development, to remain dormant for up to 50 years and still retain their reproductive ability with no sign of aging.
Jesus the good shepherd
In a January Beginnings newsletter, I reported on an archaeological discovery made in shipwrecks off the coast of Caesarea that date back to the third century. Among the treasures, archaeologists found a gold ring with an image of a shepherd boy carrying a sheep on his shoulders carved into a green gemstone. Scientists believe the carving represents an early depiction of Jesus as the good shepherd. They also discovered a red gemstone carved with an image assumed to represent David’s harp.