Predicting shifts in technology and science can be tricky, but here’s what could happen in 2020

Predicting shifts in technology and science can be tricky, but here's what could happen in 2020

It’s likely to be an eventful year for gene editing and stem cell research

Tuesday, 31st December 2019, 7:03 am

New 3D printing technologies promise to slash the cost of producing the rockets that deliver satellites into orbit (Photo: Orbex/PA Wire)

Gene editing

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It was suggested that prime editing has the potential to mend about 89 per cent of the 75,000 harmful genetic mutations that lie behind hereditary diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and the blood disorder sickle cell disease.

Artificial limbs have been 3D-printed in the past (Photo: ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty)

3D rockets

Major strides were made in rocket science last year, with a number of 3D-printed engine prototypes being successfully tested.

This year, Relativity Space, a California startup, hopes to go one better. It plans to become the first company in the world to print almost an entire rocket – 95 per cent of it – which it hopes will be ready for launching at the end of the year.

Only a handful of components, such as electronics and circuit boards, will have to be made by hand for the craft, named Teran 1.

If successful, the launch will pave the way for numerous 3D-printed rockets to be sent into space much more quickly and cheaply than they are at the moment.

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Stem cells

Scientists are working around the world on trials of promising stem-cell treatments for blindness, spinal cord injury, heart failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and lung cancer, and some of the first results should become available later in the year.

Embryonic, or pluripotent, stem cells have extraordinary medical potential because they can develop into any of the 220 or so mature, specialised cells of the body, from insulin-making pancreatic cells to the nerve cells of the brain.


The 2020 mission of the ExoMars programme, if all goes to plan, will deliver a European rover and a Russian platform to the surface of Mars.

ExoMars will be the first mission to combine the capability to move across the surface of the planet and to the ability study Mars at depth. Meanwhile, Nasa will launch a separate mission to study the habitability of Mars and prepare for future human missions.

The smart needle uses light to pinpoint cancerous tissues almost instantaneously (Photo: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth)

Smart needle

They have demonstrated that the technique works in the laboratory, and are in the early stages of a three-year clinical trial to test it in living people.

The researchers have focused on lymphoma so far, but said that they are hopeful the technique could also be used further down the line to diagnose other forms of the disease, such as breast and prostate cancer.

At the moment, diagnosing lymphoma can be an invasive process that involves a surgical biopsy followed by a nerve-racking wait for the result, which can often take two weeks or more.

The smart needle uses light to pinpoint cancerous tissues almost instantaneously.

Using a technique called Raman spectroscopy, the “optical biopsy” measures the light scattered by tissues when a laser contained in the needle is shone on it.

The light scatters differently from healthy tissues than it does from diseased tissues, meaning that doctors can make their diagnosis straight away.

Sir Mo Farah celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win gold ahead in the 5,000m at the London 2012 Olympics. He announced last month that he will return to the track to defend his Olympic 10,000m title in Tokyo (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty)

Japan’s robotic Olympics

Japan has pledged to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics “the most innovative in history” by deploying robots to assist spectators and staff during the games.

The Human Support Robot (HSR) and Delivery Support Robot (DSR), developed by Toyota, will be used in tandem.

HSR, a one-armed robot about 3ft (1m) tall, can hold objects, pick things up off the ground and reach up high. It can move by itself, or can be controlled remotely as it attends to people in wheelchairs, guiding them to their seats and helping to carry items.

When people order food or drinks using a tablet computer, DSR will transport the items in a basket and HSR will then deliver them directly to guests.

Waste to Energy

The world’s largest waste-to-energy plant is set to open on the outskirts of Shenzhen, China. The new plant is made to handle 5000 tons of waste per day, burning the waste to generate electricity.

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