The end of 2020 was a period of ‘game changers’. In November, Google Deepmind solved one of biology’s oldest challenges – determining the 3D shape of proteins. Understanding proteins’ behaviours will help scientists with their work on almost all diseases. The discovery could revolutionise the treatment and outcomes of everything from cancer to dementia.
Just weeks later, we had the good news scientists and politicians had hoped for since lockdowns were first introduced. Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine was 95% effective. The most optimistic predictions had expected a successful vaccine (measured at 50% + ) to take eighteen months. Science triumphed in under a year. Chartwell’s Matt Ridley suggested that the vaccine’s new mRNA technology enables us to ‘build a library of messenger vaccines for every plausible coronavirus and influenza virus with pandemic potential. We can find and test them in animals and store the recipes on a hard disk, ready to go at a moment’s notice.’
Others set their sights beyond earth. Private companies are starting a new ‘space age’. Virgin Galactic plans to start space tourism this year. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk stepped up their ambitions for space exploration in a race motivated by ego and wealth, but also an existential desire to safeguard the human race. Both believe we can create a colony on Mars.
2021 will not bring immediate change. A new Covid-19 variant and teething problems in the vaccine rollout have dampened a renewed optimism. However, the ground has been laid for changes that could transform how and where we live.