of the Year

Development cell by cell

With a trio of techniques, scientists are tracking embryo development in stunning detail

From at least the time of Hippocrates, biologists have been transfixed by the mystery of how a single cell develops into an adult animal with multiple organs and billions of cells. The ancient Greek physician hypothesized that moisture from a mother’s breath helps shape a growing infant, but now we know it is DNA that ultimately orchestrates the processes by which cells multiply and specialize. Now, just as a music score indicates when strings, brass, percussion, and woodwinds chime in to create a symphony, a combination of technologies is revealing when genes in individual cells switch on, cueing the cells to play their specialized parts. The result is the ability to track development of organisms and organs in stunning detail, cell by cell and through time. Science is recognizing that combination of technologies, and its potential for spurring advances in basic research and medicine, as the 2018 Breakthrough of the Year. Read more …


Visitors to Science’s website are in agreement with the magazine’s reporters and editors: Development cell by cell is the Breakthrough of the Year. We invited online readers to vote on a dozen candidates for the breakthrough. The first round of voting narrowed the choices to four, and a second round, in which more than 12,000 votes were cast, determined the top People’s Choice. The results are:


What went wrong in the world of science in 2018