Bioethics Blogs

Happy New Year: Looking Back at 2016 Research Highlights

Happy New Year! While everyone was busy getting ready for the holidays, the journal Science announced its annual compendium of scientific Breakthroughs of the Year. If you missed it, the winner for 2016 was the detection of gravitational waves—tiny ripples in the fabric of spacetime created by the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago! It’s an incredible discovery, and one that Albert Einstein predicted a century ago.

Among the nine other advances that made the first cut for Breakthrough of the Year, several involved the biomedical sciences. As I’ve done in previous years (here and here), I’ll kick off this New Year by taking a quick look of some of the breakthroughs that directly involved NIH support:

DNA analysis and human migration: I highlighted this intriguing advance on my blog last September. All humans trace their ancestry to Africa. But there has been considerable room for debate about exactly when and how many times modern humans departed Africa to take up residence in distant locations throughout the world.

Three new studies—two of which received NIH funding—helped to fill in some of those missing pages of our evolutionary history [1-3]. The genomic evidence suggests that the earliest human inhabitants of Eurasia came from Africa and began to diverge genetically at least 50,000 years ago. While the new studies differ somewhat in their conclusions, the findings also lend support to the notion that our modern human ancestors dispersed out of Africa primarily in a single migratory event. If an earlier and ultimately failed dispersion occurred, it left little trace in the genomes of people alive today.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.