Chinese scientists achieved a lot of breakthroughs in various fields in 2023, such as quantum computing, astronomical observation, and brain-computer interfacing. Let’s review some of the highlights obtained by Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) researchers over the year.

1. New gene discovery points way to better alkaline tolerance in crops

Genetic modification of AT1 enhances alkaline stress tolerance [IMAGE: IGDB]

Scientists identified a key gene involved in crop alkaline tolerance that may improve crop yield in sodic environments. In addition to illustrating an ecologically important molecular mechanism, this study has great potential for guiding the planting of alkaline salt-tolerant crops on marginal lands. In this way, it could contribute to global food security as there are more than one billion hectares of saline land worldwide.

2. Scientists find key evidence for existence of nanoHertz gravitational waves

Taking advantage of FAST’s high sensitivity, the Chinese Pulsar Timing Array (CPTA) research team found key evidence for quadrupole correlation signatures compatible with prediction of nanoHertz gravitational waves at a 4.6-sigma statistical confidence level. [IMAGE: CAS NEW MEDIA LAB]

The group of Chinese scientists found key evidence for the existence of nanoHertz gravitational waves, marking a new era in nanoHertz gravitational wave research. Their work was based on pulsar timing observations carried out with the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST).

3. Study provides deeper insight into Mars’ climate evolution

The Martian dune formation and Martian climate in the Zhurong rover exploration zone [IMAGE: NAOC]

Detailed analysis of data obtained by the Zhurong dune rover located on the southern Utopian Plain of Mars suggests the planet underwent a major shift in climate that accompanied changes in prevailing winds. This shift likely occurred about 400,000 years ago, which coincides with the end of the last glacial period on Mars.

4. Chinese expedition team reaches Mt. Cho Oyu summit for scientific research

Members of a Chinese expedition team head for the summit of Mount Cho Oyu on October 1, 2023. [IMAGE: XINHUA]

An 18-member Chinese expedition team reached the summit of Mount Cho Oyu, also known as Mt. Qowowuyag, on October 1, 2023, to carry out scientific research on the world’s sixth-highest peak. This is the first time Chinese scientists have scaled a peak exceeding 8,000 meters in altitude apart from Mt. Qomolangma, the world’s highest summit.

The expedition carried out a number of tasks such as setting up automatic weather stations at extremely high altitudes, measuring the thickness of snow and ice on the summit, drilling ice cores and collecting snow and ice samples.

5. Unveiling the dynamic world of human macrophage specification during prenatal development

The unfolding scroll metaphorically reveals the immune cell atlas, depicting the localization, differentiation, and functions of macrophages. [IMAGE: PROFESSOR LI HANJIE’S TEAM]

Researchers have unveiled the dynamics of human macrophage specification across 19 different tissues from early embryonic stages. The study offers a comprehensive map of human macrophage diversity and developmental processes, revealing their multifaceted roles in development. The findings are poised to revolutionize the understanding of immune cells and offer promising avenues for potential therapeutic interventions.

6. China’s solar telescope array officially completed

This aerial photo taken on April 22, 2023 shows a view of the Daocheng Solar Radio Telescope in Daocheng County, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province. [IMAGE: XINHUA/JIN LIWANG]

The Daocheng Solar Radio Telescope, a solar telescope array in Southwest China, passed key testing on September 27, 2023, marking the official completion of the world’s largest synthesis aperture radio telescope. The telescope array is a landmark component of the country’s space environment ground-base comprehensive monitoring network (phase-2 Meridian Project) and will provide high-quality observation data for solar physics and space weather research in China.

7. China’s computational power gains new strength with 255-detected-photon quantum computer

Schematic diagram of the “Jiuzhang 3.0” [IMAGE: USTC]

Chinese scientists unveiled a quantum computer prototype named “Jiuzhang 3.0” with 255 detected photons on October 11, 2023, once again pushing the boundaries of photonics quantum computing technology. The research team has successfully accomplished this quantum computing feat, achieving a speed that is 10 quadrillion times faster in solving Gaussian boson sampling (GBS) problems compared to the world’s current fastest supercomputers.

8. 110 projects undertaken aboard Tiangong Station

This screen image captured at Beijing Aerospace Control Center on November 3, 2022 shows China’s space station lab module Mengtian after successful completion of in-orbit transposition. [IMAGE: XINHUA]

A total of 110 science and technology projects are being undertaken on board China’s Tiangong space station and some of them have made substantial progress. The projects cover a wide range of research fields, including life science, microgravity physics and material science.

9. Monitoring of radio galaxy M87 confirms black hole spin

Schematic representation of the tilted accretion disk model. The black hole’s spin axis is assumed to align vertically. The jet’s direction is almost perpendicular to the disk. The misalignment between the black hole spin axis and the disk rotation axis triggers the precession of the disk and jet. [IMAGE: YUZHU CUI ET AL. 2023, INTOUCHABLE LAB@OPENVERSE AND ZHEJIANG LAB]

The nearby radio galaxy M87, located 55 million light-years from the Earth and harboring a black hole 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun, exhibits an oscillating jet that swings up and down with an amplitude of about 10 degrees, confirming the black hole’s spin.

Through extensive analysis of telescope data from 2000-2022, the research team revealed a recurring 11-year cycle in the precessional motion of the jet base, as predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The study links the dynamics of the jet with the central supermassive black hole, offering evidence that M87’s black hole spins.

10. Researchers generate live-birth chimeric monkey using embryonic stem cells

A diagram summarizing the study’s major findings

A study has reported the generation of a live-birth chimeric monkey using a high contribution of embryonic stem cells (ESCs). The study has major implications for research into naive pluripotency in primates and genetic engineering of nonhuman primates. It deepens our understanding of the pluripotency and totipotency of ESCs from primate species and also paves the way for generating nonhuman primate models with sophisticated gene modification.

11. The enemies within: endogenous retroviruses and programmed aging

The accumulation of HERVK viral RNA (left) and viral-like particles (RVLP) in senescent human cells

Scientists have collaborated to reveal that the youngest subfamily of endogenous retrovirus (ERV) is awakened during aging, and propose a new theory of programed and contagious aging induced by resurrection of ERVs. Moreover, they found ways to control them: a multi-dimensional intervention strategy that could alleviate aging by blocking ERV reactivation and transmission.

The resurrection of ERV may shed new light on the “Pandora’s box” of aging, which opens up a new scientific field, and paradoxically brings new hope for preventing and treating aging-related diseases. In the future, more puzzles related to the activation of ERVs during aging need to be solved by continuous efforts of scientists using new techniques.

12. Heterogeneity of Earth’s mantle may be relics of Moon formation

The large low velocity provinces (LLVPs) in the deep Earth mantle may be relics of Theian mantle materials. [IMAGE: DENG HONGPING AND HANGZHOU SPHERE STUDIO]

An interdisciplinary international research team has recently discovered that a massive anomaly deep within the Earth’s interior may be a remnant of the collision about 4.5 billion years ago that formed the Moon. This research offers important new insights not only into Earth’s internal structure but also into its long-term evolution and the formation of the inner solar system.

Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences

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