1. Massive earthquake rattles Haiti on Jan. 12
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
A magnitude-7 earthquake strikes near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000 and leaving 2 million more homeless. Post-quake conditions in the country, aggravated by a weak healthcare infrastructure and poor water sanitation, lead to a cholera outbreak in October. The death toll from cholera passes 2,500 on Dec. 19.
— Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
2. Congress passes, and Obama signs into law, sweeping legislation to reform the healthcare industry
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
3. FDA announces that cigarette packages will have to carry large and graphic warnings
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
4. Progress made in preventing HIV transmission
(Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images)
5. Outbreak of pertussis cases in infants and older adults
(Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)
6. Strange goings-on in the bacterial world
(Evan Hurd / AFP/Getty Images)
In a major step for the nascent field of synthetic biology, a team of scientists led by J. Craig Venter — the man known for leading the commercial effort to decode the human genome — creates a single-celled organism from DNA assembled entirely in the lab. One molecular biologist compares the achievement to “Jurassic Park or Frankenstein.” Hand-wringing ensues.
Bacteria are back in the news in December when a NASA news release sets the blogosphere abuzz with (false) rumors that the agency has discovered alien life. In fact, a group of scientists funded by NASA has found a strange bacterium in California’s Mono Lake capable of eating arsenic instead of phosphorus. But even that report, scientists soon complain, may have been overhyped.
7. Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupts and erupts and erupts, disrupting air travel
(Jon Gustafsson / Associated Press)
8. People start taking concussions — also known as traumatic brain injury — more seriously
(Winslow Townson / Associated Press)
Engineers at MIT release a report in November detailing weaknesses in the military’s advanced combat helmet — but adding a face shield, they say, could improve the helmet’s ability to prevent traumatic brain injury.
Meanwhile, on the playing field, the National Football League changes its concussion policy, expanding the list of symptoms that requires players to be sidelined to include headache, confusion and more.
The league also throws its support behind legislation that would keep student athletes who get head injuries off the field for the remainder of the game and require them to get a doctor’s OK before they play again.
9. Large Hadron Collider finally begins doing experiments to find elusive subatomic particles
(Martial Trezzini / EPA)
Sidelined for 18 months because of problems with its wiring, the Large Hadron Collider goes operational March 30. The $10-billion collider in Geneva smashes proton beams together.
Ultimately, it will mimic conditions immediately after the Big Bang and, hopefully, let scientists observe subatomic particles that have been predicted to exist but have not yet been seen. Worries that the experiments would spawn a black hole prove to be unfounded.
10. Obesity drugs largely strike out at the FDA
(Tannen Maury / EPA)
The Food and Drug Administration recommends against approval of two experimental weight-loss drugs, Lorqess and Qnexa, saying that the drugs pose too much risk for too little benefit.
The agency offers only lukewarm approval for a third drug, called Contrave. In the meantime, drug-maker Abbott Laboratories pulls Meridia from store shelves in October after the appetite suppressant is linked to higher risks of heart attacks and strokes. The trend frustrates many doctors working with the nearly 34% of U.S. adults who are obese.
(Illustration: Kelsey Ramos / Los Angeles Times [clockwise, from left: Mike Theiler / EPA, Evan Vucci / Associated Press, Martial Trezzini / EPA, Jon Gustafsson / Associated Press])
Bacteria, cigarette packages, healthcare reform, an unpronounceable volcano in Iceland that covered practically all of Europe with a cloud of potentially airplane-crippling ash: Here’s our pick for the top 10 science health and science stories of 2010.— The L.A. Times health team