#3. Malaria-Fighting Fungus
Did you think diabetes was bad? Well, OK, yes -- it's an absolute nightmare. But it pales in comparison to one of Earth's most horrific viral scourges this side of Nyan Cat: Malaria.
See mosquitoes, this is why no one invites you to the good parties.
Malaria has been around for ages, and despite our best efforts, it remains a borderline pandemic year after year, affecting over 247 million people on an average annual basis, and killing almost 1 million. So yes, malaria is an awful plague and the fact that millions suffer every year isn't funny in any sense of the word. But maybe one day it will be, when science perfects the malaria-fighting squish-plant it's currently working on.
Like this, but with malaria.
When we first heard the term "mutant fungus," the first words out of our mouthd were "shit" and "aliens." But as it turns out, British researchers at Westminster University are crafting a malaria-killing fungus aimed at the disease's primary mode of transport: mosquitoes.
Tests were surprisingly successful. Startlingly so, actually; mosquitoes exposed to this freak fungus showed dramatic decreases in the malaria virus they normally carried, to the tune of 85 percent. And, as if this wasn't promising or badass enough, they added in a -- get this -- scorpion toxin, which carried that number up (or down) to a solid 97 percent decrease in mosquito-carried malaria.
We don't know what these kids are doing, but thanks to scorpions, fungus and science, they'll be able to do it without dying!
The hope is that this new virus killer will itself go viral, and its properties will be carried throughout the humid tropics where the disease is most prevalent. If all goes according to plan, malaria will still be able to infect mosquitoes, but it will be exponentially more difficult for these mosquitoes to carry the virus to fresh human hosts. Also, this new method is a hell of a lot cheaper than current methods, like shooting mosquitoes out of the air with lasers. Though admittedly with far less entertainment value.
Our days of hiding behind nets are numbered.
#2. Pollution Fighting Trees
All around America there are abandoned hazardous waste sites called Superfund sites (because of the gigantic amount of money it is going to take to clean them up). Abandoned hazardous waste would be no big deal if we could just rope it off and tell everybody to avoid it until the sun goes supernova, but unfortunately the toxic shit being stored there has a way of leaking, and from there it makes its way into the groundwater. Then it kills you.
Or turns you into a superpowered crime fighter.
When it comes time to scientifically engineer a better pollution eater, it makes sense to look at plants. Already, there are some plants that can suck dangerous chemicals out of the groundwater via their roots, and then use enzymes to break down the chemicals. So science is engineering a poplar tree that is way more efficient than nature's version when it comes to sucking the dangerous chemical trichloroethylene out of the ground (that's the most common pollutant at hazardous waste sites, if you're wondering why they picked that particular one).
Maybe they were just unjustifiably huge John Travolta fans.
How much better does the engineered version work? Well, an unaltered tree will soak about three percent of the trichloroethylene from water. The modified trees up that to 91 percent. They can break down the chemical's molecules 100 times faster than nature. Oh, and the plants are also better at removing other common environmental pollutants like chloroform from the soil, and also could eat hazardous gases like benzene from the atmosphere.
University of Washington
You're welcome, humans.
#1. Artificial Life (Sort of)
Apparently, while all these other labs were hard at work modifying things that already existed to fix our problems, one lab said, "Screw it," and just designed their own life. Not real life, mind you -- but seeing as how their synthetic copy of a living Mycoplasma capricolum cell comes complete with man-made DNA and the ability to self-replicate, we'd say it's pretty damn close.
This is the first step on the road to engineered iguanamen slaves.
As of right now, getting this new organism started is about as far as we can go with it, but still it has managed to grow hundredfold in its short five-year lifespan. This incredible stride in the field of genetic engineering is an open door to a whole new world of possibilities. Synthetic biologist Chris Voigt (he's not a robot, despite the title) claimed that with the information gathered here, the subfield of, um ... we'll just name it ourselves here, "playing God," will likely become a primary focus in the field of biological synthetic engineering.
Chris Voigt, seen here proving that "playing God" looks remarkably like sitting on your ass.
Now, keep in mind that anything close to creating a new, human-designed animal is far enough off that Voight himself calls it "science fiction." You have to think smaller. That is, smaller in size, not effect -- already they're using the techniques they learned here to create better vaccines for things like the flu. And when we say "flu," don't just think in terms of the bad cold that makes you miss a week of work, but the disease that kills up to half a million people a year.
So if this is what genetically engineered monstrosities give us, bring that shit on.
For more on awesome science, check out 7 Kickass Sci-Fi Cancer Cures and 5 Scientific Theories That Will Make Your Head Explode.