We are well on our way into 2018. Two months down, ten to go. We thought we would take this opportunity to remember 2017 – think about some of the biological breakthroughs that were made last year. Maybe you have already forgotten about some of these or maybe you missed them completely! But 2017 was a great year for biology. So, let’s take a look.


Lamb incubated in an artificial womb

A huge leap forward was made in the field of premature birth. Scientists kept a premature lamb fetus alive in an artificial womb for four weeks. This was huge news! They achieved this using what was essentially a plastic bag filled with womby-goodness. Or as they describe it, “a closed amniotic fluid circuit”. This circuit contained an umbilical cord interface capable of supplying the lamb fetus with oxygen allowing it to develop normal vital organs, eg brain, lungs, and useful things like that. The technology has a few more kinks that need to be ironed out before it can be let loose on humans. However, this work has huge potential for neonatal intensive care. Go science!

You can read the paper behind this story here.


CRISPR used to correct a mutation in human embryos

You might have heard of CRISPR. It’s kind of a big deal. But one of the big questions currently facing this gene-editing technology is should be used in human embryos? Last year a team of scientists successfully used CRISPR to correct a human gene mutation. This disease gene was MYBPC3 – a gene known to cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in humans. The team behind this work also address one of the biggest concerns for CRISPR use in humans – the potential to introduce “off target” gene edits. Although the data they present is extremely promising, this technology is a long way off being used in the clinic. But perhaps this could be the future of gene therapy.

You can read the full paper published in Nature here.


World’s first fluorescent frog

The ability to fluoresce under UV light is almost unheard of in land animals. So, no surprise that when a frog capable of this very thing was discovered in Argentina, it made the headlines. The polka-dot tree frog is an adorable little fella known for his green skin with red dots. When scientists were looking at this pattern in more detail they stumbled across the frog’s florescent abilities completely by chance. This discovery opens a whole world of florescent possibilities. Are there more animals out there that can fluoresce and we just don’t know yet? Only time and the use of a lot of UV torches will tell.

Read the PNAS paper that first describes this frog right here.


Keytruda – the cancer wonder drug of 2017

In 2017 Keytruda became the first drug to be FDA-approved for use to treat any solid tumor type. This made it the first drug to be approved for use irrespective of the tissue in which the tumor is found. An all-rounder that was immediately branded by the media as a miracle cure. Keytruda is particularly effective against tumors with mismatched repair mutations – these tumors contain hundreds of genetic mutations. This is because Keytruda works by targeting the PD-1 receptor found on T lymphocytes, a negative regulator of immune cells. Blocking this negative regulator boosts immune cells that will recognize the highly mutated tumor cells as foreign. The immune system gets geared up to fight the tumor. It is by no means a perfect cure but moving away from treating tumors based on where they are found to how they behave is the underlying breakthrough of this story.

Get more deets right here.


There it is: 2017 was an incredible year for biology. From cancer wonder drugs to bizarre fluorescent frogs. This was just scraping the surface of the discoveries made last year. Hundreds of other discoveries were made that will shape the future of research. But what will be the big breakthroughs of 2018? Who knows, but boy am I excited to find out.


Photo by Ray Hennessy