Even though there are lots of people who are upset by the fact that we still don’t have the hoverboards that were promised to us by Back to the Future 2, the truth of the matter is that while society has fallen short on some of the things people had hoped to have by now, scientists have progressed far beyond what anyone could have imagined possible just 30 years ago. And if you want to get an idea of where humanity is heading in the next 30 years, you should be sure to pay close attention to these 10 scientific breakthroughs that have the potential to change the world.
Originally designed to help soldiers in the field carry all their gear, wearable robotic enhancements like the the hydraulic-powered Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) have been in use for more than 15 years. But now the U.S. military is in the process of developing something much more advanced. Dubbed the “Iron Man Suit,” The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) is a bulletproof and weaponized exoskeleton that also has the ability to monitor a soldier’s biometrics and provide augmented strength. Though, with a weight of 400 pounds, it’s unlikely the suit will be seen popping out of a briefcase, it does some have other high-tech features including an electricity activated shield referred to as “liquid body armor,” which uses a current to instantly transform the armor from a liquid to a solid—making the suit more comfortable and easier to wear in non-combat situations.
There have also been exosuits designed for use outside the military. The ReWalk is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that provides powered hip and knee motion to enable individuals with spinal cord injury to walk again. And the Assist Suit AWN-03 exoskeleton developed by Panasonic is essentially the power loader from the movie Aliens, able to lift more than 200 pounds to help move cargo or clear disaster areas.
9. Lab-Grown Body Parts
One of the biggest problems with transplanting organs is the threat of rejection. When a patient receives an organ from a donor, there’s the chance their immune system will attack it just as it would any other foreign intruder.
To be able to routinely replace body parts without having to wait for a suitable donor and take anti-rejection drugs could have the potential to change the face of medicine and enable people to live longer, more active lives.
8. Lab-Grown Meat
Though it cost more that $300,000 to develop, the world’s first lab-grown hamburger could present a new sustainable way of meeting the world’s growing demand for meat.
The burger was cooked by chef Richard McGeown, from Cornwall, and tasted by food critics Hanni Ruetzler and Josh Schonwald. “I was expecting the texture to be more soft…there is quite some intense taste; it’s close to meat, but it’s not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper,” said Ruetzler upon tasting the burger. While Schonwald stated “The mouthfeel is like meat. I miss the fat, there’s a leanness to it, but the general bite feels like a hamburger.
The burger was produced from cow stem cells and consisted of 20,000 strands of thin muscle tissue sandwiched together. And while the $300,000 cost to produce the burger certainly seems expensive, according to the research team in charge of the project, if the lab-grown beef were to be mass produced, it could drive the cost down to $9.10 per patty with one small piece of cow muscle able to produce 22,000 pounds of meat.
It’s now expected that lab-grown meat will be on grocery store shelves within the decade, and should be incredibly beneficial to the environment by reducing methane emissions from livestock, and freeing up food supplies normally reserved for cows.
7. Super Photosynthesis
Currently, 40 percent of the world is dependant on rice and wheat as a main food source. If things continue as they are, the global food supply will be hundreds of millions of tons of rice short by the time the population reaches 10 billion in 2050. But thanks to the C4 photosynthesis process, which captures carbon dioxide and concentrates it in special cells located in the plants leaves, the yields of these essential crops can be increased by as much as 50 percent. According to researchers at MIT, this genetic advancement will likely be available within the next 10 to 15 years and, once implemented, should be instrumental in saving thousands of lives.
6. Suspended Animation
When patients in critical condition have bled so much that the heart stops beating, there’s usually very little chance of saving their life. However, doctors may have now found a way to beat those bleak odds. In 2014, researchers at a Pennsylvania hospital devised a way to effectively put someone in suspended animation. By draining all the blood from a patient’s body and replacing it with a cold saline solution, the body temperature is reduced to minus 10 degrees Celsius, at which point nearly all cellular, respiratory and brain function ceases. While patients are in the suspended animation state, doctors have more time to perform complicated operations and treat life-threatening injuries. Afterwards, blood is fed back into the patient’s body, heated, and the heart is re-activated.
Despite still being in its infancy, the procedure has already been used to keep patients in suspended animation for several hours.
5. Drastically Increased Lifespans
It’s thought that aging is caused by the accumulation of damage that occurs as our cells copy and reproduce, occasionally with random gene errors. As these errors build up over time, they disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of the body. However, if there were a way of eliminating the cells containing errors, it might be possible to eliminate the effects of aging altogether.
Scientists at the Institute of Cell Biology in Switzerland have developed a technique that has been shown to drastically increase the lifespans of fruit flies by activating a gene that destroys unhealthy cells, thus eliminating the buildup of damage over time. Usually, there are two copies of the gene in each cell, but researchers discovered that if they insert a third copy of the gene, they could boost its effectiveness more than double the lifespans of the fruit flies.
Since the same gene is also present in humans, theoretically a similar procedure could work for us. And, if it does, people living healthy, active lives well into their hundreds could become the norm.
4. Gene Editing
Last year, Chinese scientists genetically modified human embryos for the first time in history. Researchers demonstrated a 33 percent success rate in editing out a certain gene that causes a fatal blood disorder; however, the procedure also resulted in a number of unintended mutations.
Genetically altering human embryos has long been a topic of hot debate in many forums, and although many countries have outlawed it, gene editing could help save millions of lives by eliminating thousands of diseases that are caused by flaws in DNA.
The latest in gene-editing technology involves something known as clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPRs. Using a new technique, scientists can locate, remove and replace specific DNA sequences, giving them the power to turn specific genes on or off at will. In the future, this could allow for us to greatly influence our evolutionary path by developing resistance to disease, removing harmful mutations, switching on genes that enable enhanced strength and speed, and even allowing us to regrow entire limbs or organs.
3. Mapping the Human Brain
For all it’s been studied the human brain is still one of the biggest enigmas in nature. A comprehensive map of the the human brain would have far-reaching implications way beyond the field of medicine, but it’s such a fantastically complicated organ that scientists are still only just getting started.
Currently, scientists utilize a meticulous technique that involves slicing, staining and scanning the brain in order to map the structures. But a breakthrough in mapping techniques could very well speed up the process and open the door to a world of exciting possibilities.
The practical applications of mapping the brain would be on a scale similar to mapping the genome. Who knows? A working computer model of the human mind could make it possible to store and alter our memories, create genuine artificial intelligence, or even upload human consciousness to a computer.
2. Synthetic Life
Pioneering genetic researcher J. Craig Venter spent 15 years and $40 million to make the world’s first living synthetic cell. Using some advanced chemistry, Venter and his team produced a brand new bacterial genome from scratch, painstakingly assembling all 1.1 million letters of genetic code in the lab.
Although some would argue that Venter is treading on sacred ground and attempting to “play god,” the implications of this breakthrough are staggering. Venter is confident that one day scientists will be able to create new bacterial life with the ability to absorb harmful compounds like carbon dioxide from the environment and produce biofuel or possibly even vaccines as a byproduct.
Furthermore, in 2014, biotech startup Synthorx actually expanded the DNA alphabet by developing a bacterium that incorporates two new synthetic DNA letters, called X and Y, in addition to the four natural ones, A, T,C and G. The company has high hopes that the new forms of cellular life it produces will be highly beneficial to the field of medicine.
1. Nuclear Fusion
Presently, nuclear energy comes in the form of nuclear fission. When compared to nuclear fusion, fission is much more dangerous and wasteful, mainly because it produces harmful radioactive waste that can linger for tens of thousands of years. But artificially creating a sustainable nuclear fusion reaction is no easy feat and so far most attempts have consumed more energy than they’ve yielded.
Now, thanks to a new method being developed at the National Ignition Facility in California, physicists are closer than ever to achieving an abundant source of clean energy through nuclear fusion. By concentrating 192 high-powered lasers on a tiny ball of frozen hydrogen, the physicists are hoping to kick-start a chain reaction that will ignite the hydrogen ball into a miniature energy-producing star.
So far the experiment has cost a whopping $3 billion, but, in 2015, it began to show very promising results by demonstrating the reaction could give off more energy than it took in.