The Greatest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2018

Scientific breakthroughs happen across the globe each year as the world's top researchers make innovative discoveries that alter life on earth and change our perception of reality. The greatest scientific discoveries are an inspiring testament to the profound capabilities of the human mind. Each year, scientists make incredible discoveries.

In 2017, scientists learned how to pull water out of thin air and edit a human embryo. The latest breakthroughs from 2018 are just as impressive. If you haven't already learned about these recent scientific advances, now is the time. 

This list of 2018 scientific discoveries features informative works that span a wide range of disciplines. Some discoveries brought about a more rich understanding of our past. The last wild horses may not truly have wild ancestors and a lost Native American tribe gave us a more complex look at our earliest ancestors. Other discoveries may mean huge leaps for medical science. From blood tests to detect cancer to the potential to grow human organs for donations, these breakthroughs will give you hope for the future even in bleak times.  

The latest in science news is inspirational for a new generation of thinkers who will continue to push the boundaries of human capability. What were the biggest discoveries of 2018? How about scientific advancements? Read on to find out, then see the scientific breakthroughs of 2019.

Photo: David Kingham / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

  • Gene-Editing Allowed Same-Sex Mouse Parents To Give Birth

    In October 2018, same sex mice couples gave birth to pups with the help of gene editing and stem cells. The pups born by two female mice were healthy and even had their own litters. The pups born by male mice, however, were not as fortunate - only two of the 12 survived more than 48 hours. 

    The researchers in China published their study in the journal Cell Stem Cell, saying that while this won't be possible for humans in the immediate future, it is a promising step forward. It also raises a host of ethical questions, given the high risk factor for genetic disparities. 

    “We can’t assert this technique could never be used in humans in the future,” senior author Wei Li from the Chinese Academy of Sciences told National Geographic.


  • Scientists Discovered The Largest Animal On Earth - A 26,000-Pound Dinosaur


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    In September of 2018, researchers in South Africa revealed a new, giant relative of the brontosaurus estimated to have been nearly twice the size of the massive African elephant, based on its restored fossil. Named “Ledumahadi mafube” - or “a giant thunderclap at dawn” in the local language of Sesotho - researchers now believe this dinosaur was one of the largest animals on Earth during the early days of the planet’s existence, about 200 millions years ago. These 26,000-pound creatures were most likely related to the giant dinosaurs inhabiting what is modern-day Argentina, when Pangaea made overland transport more accessible.

    Reportedly, the Ledumahadi is closely related to sauropod dinosaurs - similar to the brontosaurus. But unlike the famous four-legged, plant-eating bronty, the Ledumahadi is believed to have been what researchers call a “transitional” dinosaur, or what CNN described as “an evolutionary experiment… during the early Jurassic period [in which] the forelimbs of this dinosaur are more ‘crouched,’ while being very thick to support its giant body.” This presumably means the dinosaur may actually have evolved from two-legged ancestors, but scientists posit the way in which it evolved to four legs helped its digestive system handle a more vegetarian-based diet.

    Based on the reconstruction of the Ledumahadi’s fossilized skeleton, which was first unearthed in 2002, scientists think more sauropods than initially believed may have used both two legs and four in adapting their habits during an evolutionary phase.

  • Australian Scientists Identified The World's Oldest Known Animal

    Australian Scientists Identified The World's Oldest Known Animal
    Video: YouTube

    Since 1947, a fossil only known as Dickinsonia has gone unidentified. In September 2018, Australian scientists revealed they had finally identified the animal in the geological record. Scientists called the discovery "the Holy Grail of paleontology."

    By examining the fat molecules found on the fossil, researchers were able to verify that the creature lived 558 million years ago, which makes it the "earliest known member of the animal kingdom." The fat molecules place the animal's existence 20 million years prior to the Cambrian Explosion event, which is when most animal origins are pinpointed on the fossil record. 

    The fossil was initially discovered in 1947 by Australian scientists in a remote area near the White Sea in Russia. Scientists were unable to determine the date of the fossil for decades because of the weatherization caused by heat and pressure. Once scientists were able to extract the cholesterol from the specimen, they were able to pinpoint when it existed. 

  • Archaeologists Found The Oldest Known Human Drawing

    In September 2018, researchers reported on what may be the earliest known drawing created by Homo sapiens. Archaeologists discovered a stone flake with nine red lines on it in a cave in South Africa, which they believe is roughly 73,000 years old - that's 30,000 years older than what was previously thought to be the oldest human-made drawings. Archaeologists believe this drawing could help us learn more about how humans used symbols, which ultimately led to language and civilization itself. 

    Researchers found the drawing in Blombos Cave, 200 miles east of Cape Town. Scientists also uncovered the teeth, spear points, seashell beads, engravings, and tools made of bone in the cavern. The scientists aren't exactly sure what the purpose of the line drawing was, but they feel the lines were made deliberately. 

  • A 228 Million-Year-Old Fossil Confirmed Turtles Lived Without Shells In The Past


    In August 2018, scientists found a nearly complete fossil of a massive turtle that confirmed turtles didn't always have shells. The fossil, which was unearthed in the Guizhou providence of China, is bigger than a double bed, and scientists dated the material back 228 million years. The structure of the turtle's back show it existed without shells. Researchers named it Eorhynchochelys sinensis, which means "Dawn turtle with a beak from China."

    Why is this important? Scientists have been eager to discover how turtles' shells evolved, as they help turtles live underwater longer, store important minerals like potassium and magnesium, and protects them from outside forces. This fossil shows a bit of the transition from non-shell to shelled turtles. 

    "We're seeing it in this animal - with the ribs beginning to expand," Dr. Nicolas Fraser, keeper of natural sciences at the National Museum of Scotland explained.

  • Palaeogeneticists Uncovered The Remains Of An Ancient Hybrid Human

    In August 2018, Paleogeneticists discovered that a woman who died 90,000 years ago was parented by two different species of human. According to a genome analysis of a bone found in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Russia, the woman was half Neanderthal, half Denisovan. Scientists had always suspected Denisovans and Neanderthals procreated together, but there was no evidence of a first-generation offspring. 

    Deducing this was an arduous process. Paleogeneticists Viviane Slon and Svante Pääblo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, led an investigation spanning several years. When they first found the bone fragment, it was clear the mother was a Neanderthal, but the father's identity was still shrouded in mystery. Researchers sequenced the specimen's genome and compared it to DNA from a Neanderthal, a Denisovan, and a modern-day human from Africa. Through deduction, scientists were able to confirm she is in fact a first-generation cross-species hybrid human.