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Updated on Dec 25, 2018. Posted on Dec 19, 2018

21 Cool Scientific Discoveries That Prove 2018 Wasn't All Bad

We have a new organ now, no big deal.

1. We learned that we might suffer a climate crisis by the year 2040.

Jes Aznar / Getty Images

Okay, first the bad news: A United Nations-commissioned study by 91 scientists from 40 countries found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate, by 2040 the earth's atmosphere will rise to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, causing mass destruction that will cost us as much as $54 trillion. Previously the threshold for the most severe consequences of global warming was thought to be a slightly higher 3.6 degrees increase.

2. We have a new organ called the the interstitium now!

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Did you know that layers of the body previously thought to be connective tissue might actually be its own organ responsible for moving fluid throughout your body? The newly discovered organ is one of the largest in the body and has implications about everything from the ways cancer might spread to the effectiveness of acupuncture.

3. We finally got to read about a survivor of the last U.S. slave ship, after years of the manuscript being ignored.

Afp / AFP / Getty Images

In 1931, Zora Neale Hurston tried to publish Barracoon, the story of Kossula, or Cudjo Lewis, a man who was kidnapped from his home and sold into slavery, despite the fact that international slave trading had been outlawed. No publishing house would accept the story, but it was finally released in May from HarperCollins.

4. There's a huge subaltern lake on Mars, ending a decades-long debate among astronomers.

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For a while, scientists have suspected liquid water might be found on Mars, but a radar instrument known as MARSIS was able to detect a 12-mile-long lake of liquid water under Mars' surface. On Earth, subaltern bodies of water can contain microorganisms related to ancient species, and scientists are eager to see if the same might be true on Mars.

5. There was a 1,500 year old sword hiding at the bottom of a Swedish lake—and an 8-year-old girl found it.

Facebook: andy.vanecek

Many of us thought we had found a new ruler in Saga Vanecek, who pulled a sword that might date to the 5th or 6th century A.D. while playing in Vidöstern Lake. The sword was originally thought to be a Viking sword, but is now thought to predate the Vikings.

6. The solution to regrowing hair follicles might be found in McDonald's fry oil.

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A chemical known as dimethylpolysiloxane, which is added to McDonald's oil among other things, might encourage hair follicle germs (HFGs) to grow in a lab setting. Currently, researchers can only grow about 50 HFGs at once, but with dimethylpolysiloxane, they can produce up to 5,000 HFGs. These follicles were successfully transplanted onto mice, but it remains to be seen if this can be replicated with humans.

7. Researchers found an entire lost city!

Abdullah Doma / AFP / Getty Images

The city of Tenea was said to be settled by prisoners of the Trojan War and for years tiny archaeological finds hinted at its existence. But this year Elena Korka and her team, after working on the site since 2013, found a housing settlement, proving that people actually lived there.

8. We found billions of tons of "zombie" bacteria under the Earth's surface, redefining what life is.

Dr_microbe / Getty Images

The uncovered ecosystem is estimated to be hundreds of times greater than all of human life and is able to survive for "near geologic" timescales without sunlight or water.

9. We found an extremely rare depiction of Jesus Christ with short hair.

A heavily eroded painting thought to depict Jesus Christ at his baptism in the Jordan River has been identified amid the ruins of a 1,500-year-old church at the site of the ancient city of Shivta, which is located in the Negev Desert. https://t.co/UVrk9m4QbR

It's thought that this portrait might be the first iconoclastic scene of Christ's baptism in the Holy Land. There aren't many Christian images from there in part due to a law about worshipping icons.

10. We cloned monkeys for the first time.

Gabriel Bouys / AFP / Getty Images

Chinese scientists used the method that cloned Dolly the sheep to clone a macaque monkey in January. It's the first time this method has ever been used on a close relative of humans successfully. The pair of monkeys are named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua after the Chinese word Zhonghua, which means "Chinese people."

11. We found a huge new species of dinosaur we didn't know about before.

Gulshan Khan / AFP / Getty Images

An unknown dinosaur fossil was uncovered in 2012 in South Africa, and scientists were recently able to reconstruct the 26,000 relative of the brontosaurus. Its name is Ledumahadi mafube, which in Sesotho, the official South African language, means "a giant thunderclap at dawn."

12. NASA's Twin Studies program found that space travel altered gene expression in twin astronauts.

Bill Ingalls / Getty Images

Scientists at NASA sent astronaut Scott Kelly to space while his twin Mark stayed behind on Earth. As with any stressful environmental condition, much of his gene expression changed while in space before returning to normal. However, 7 percent of his genes related to the "immune system, DNA repair, bone formation, and more" have yet to return to normal. NASA is referring to these genes as "space genes."

13. We finally identified a mystery animal that seemingly defied all classification.

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The strange creature, called Dickinsonia, is said the be the oldest creature known to man, dating back to around 558 million years ago. Its lack of distinctive animal features have puzzled scientists, who thought the species might be giant amoeba, or failed evolutionary experiments. However, recently unearthed fossils with some biofilm preserved confirm that these are, actually, the world's earliest known animals.

14. We found out turtles didn't always have shells.

Afp / AFP / Getty Images

A 228-million-year-old turtle fossil was uncovered, and it looks slightly different than our modern day turtles. This one was six feet long and had a "strange disc-like body" but no shell. Other turtle fossils have been uncovered that show partially formed shells, or beakless fronts, puzzling researchers. But this latest discovery helps to explain just how the modern turtle came to be.

15. The first effective male birth control pill may have been developed.

Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Previously tested male birth control pills have had serious side effects, or needed to be taken twice a day to be effective, but a recent clinical trial shows that dimethandrolone undecanoate or DMAU was able to effectively drop testosterone to prepubescent levels without significant averse side effects. Trials are also underway for a birth control gel.

16. Astronomers discovered the brightest object in our universe...for now.

Fug4s / Getty Images

It's a quasar (official name: PSO J352.4034-15.3373) that is approximately 13 billion light years away, meaning that what scientists observe today is what it looked like at the beginning of the universe. There might actually be a brighter object out there that we haven't seen just yet. Still, to be visible from that distance means PSO J352.4034-15.3373 gets dubbed the brightest object in our universe.

17. We found out that the moonfish is actually a warm-blooded, fish.

Guidomontaldo / Getty Images

Fish are supposed to be cold-blooded, but this past spring, NOAA scientists discovered that the opah maintains its body heat by constantly flapping its fins. While its cold-blodded neighbors at the bottom of the ocean are typically slow moving, the opah can "[chase] down agile prey like squid and can migrate long distances."

18. We discovered the earliest-known beer brewery in a cave in Israel.

Master1305 / Getty Images

The traces of beer archaeologists found were 13,000 years old and belonged to the Natufians, a semi-sedentary group of foragers that scientists believe serve as an important link between hunter-gatherers and the first farming communities. The beer residue found by researchers predates Natufian bread, lending credence to the theory that early humans began farming to produce alcohol, rather than bread.

19. Researchers were able to erase damage caused by Alzheimer's in a human brain cell.

Koto_feja / Getty Images

Researchers at the Gladstone Institutes in California were able to reverse damage in human brain cell by modifying gene apoE4, the primary genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's, into an innocuous form of itself using stem cells. Most successful research on reversing signs of Alzheimer's have been done on mice, and the findings rarely translate to human brain cells.

20. We saw the first Canadian adult to receive a stem cell transplant be deemed sickle cell-free.

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Twenty-six-year-old Revée Agyepong received the stem cells from her sister in November 2017. A few months later, in April 2018, doctors detected nearly zero sickle-cell hemoglobin in her bloodstream. On top of that, while doctors typically prefer an exact match for patients to receive stem cell donations, doctors at the University of Illinois recently found a method that allows "half-matched" donors to donate their cells.

21. We reversed the aging process in mice, and might be able to do the same for humans.

Creativenature_nl / Getty Images

Previously, studies have manipulated the aging process in mice by editing their DNA, something we can't do in the same way for humans. But a team of researchers have identified a chemical compound that affects the gene responsible for vascular aging. The compound, when given to mice, increased their endurance by 56% after just two months. It remains to be seen how this might affect humans.

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