THE BEST (AND WORST) OF 1999
3 Comet Chaser Some scientists think the building blocks of life were delivered to Earth by comets. So the U.S. launched the Stardust probe, which is supposed to reach Comet Wild 2 in 2004. Though Stardust will pass by its target several times faster than a speeding bullet, the spacecraft will scoop up dust from the comet's tail--and maybe a virus or two.
4 Better Mouse Princeton, M.I.T. and Washington University scientists altered a mouse's DNA to boost its learning ability and memory capacity. While mice are a far cry from men, the research could eventually lead to methods of lifting human intelligence. But if such genetic enhancements are available to everyone, it won't be any easier to get to the head of the class.
5 Glimmer of Hope People with Alzheimer's disease eventually forget who they are. Why? Scientists at California's Amgen biotech company think they have isolated an errant enzyme that can do that kind of damage to the brain. A cure is not yet imminent, but this could be the first real counterpunch at one of the world's worst scourges.
6 Petite Dinosaurs Digging in Madagascar, an international team uncovered fossilized jaws believed to be 230 million years old--possibly the oldest dinosaur bones ever found. They probably came from an ancestor of the giant Apatosaurus (once called Brontosaurus), but this creature was much smaller. John Flynn of Chicago's Field Museum says the ancient dino was more the size of a kangaroo and could stand on two legs.
7 When Good Cells Go Bad Cancer occurs when genetic malfunctions cause cells to multiply without control. In 1983, scientists at M.I.T. learned how to tinker with the genes in mouse cells to make them malignant. Now researchers at the same university have pulled off a similar feat with human cells. The point? If we can make cells cancerous, then we might be able to find a simple way to reverse the process.
8 Death on High On Mount Llullaillaco in the Argentine Andes, archaeologist Johan Reinhard found grim evidence of the sacrificial rites of the ancient Inca. Two girls and a boy, between eight and 15 years old at the time of their deaths, may have been buried alive. Their 500-year-old remains were so well preserved that scientists can study their organs and analyze their blood.
9 Block That Fat The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave its nod to orlistat, a drug that interferes with the digestion of fat, preventing much of it from being absorbed in the intestines. This isn't an easy, painless way to look good in a swimsuit. But people who are fighting serious obesity may want to put up with such side effects as flatulence and a condition delicately known as "anal leakage."
10 The Root of Genius What made Albert Einstein so smart? Perhaps, Canadian researchers discovered, it was because his brain's inferior parietal lobe, the seat of mathematical reasoning, was larger than normal. Too bad you can't buy one of those from Amazon.com.
AND THE WORST
Mars Follies: This is what the Mars Polar Lander was supposed to do. But since the spacecraft didn't phone home, who knows what happened? Earlier the Mars Climate Orbiter vanished because of instructions that mixed up English and metric units.
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