90th Anniversary Issue: 1980s

Solving the AIDS puzzle and other highlights, 1980–89

12:13pm, March 9, 2012
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Chasing the AIDS virus
In 1981 a short story in Science News noted an uptick in a rare form of cancer and pneumonia in gay men (11/14/81, p. 309). The cause of what the story called a “puzzling outbreak,” the human immunodeficiency virus (below, reproducing inside a cell), wouldn’t be named for another five years (4/26/86, p. 265). In the meantime, the scientific community struggled to link this virus to AIDS, facing “a grim picture of a disease that remains one step ahead of the researchers seeking ways to stop it” (4/27/85, p. 260). As the outbreak became an epidemic, Science News reported on the first copying of the virus’s genetic blueprints and the first screening tests (1/19/85, p. 36). A breakthrough came in 1986 with the use of azidothymidine, or AZT. The drug, which promised to “prolong the lives of an estimated 600,000 people in the United States” (8/26/89, p. 135), helped make AIDS a treatable disease instead of a death sentence. — Devin Powell

Note: N indicates findings that went on to win a Nobel Prize.

1980 | Mount St. Helens Mount St. Helens erupts, killing nearly 60 and destroying 150 square miles of the surrounding landscape (4/5/80, p. 213; 4/12/80, p. 229; 5/3/80, p. 277; 5/24/80, p. 324; 6/7/80, p. 355; 7/26/80, p. 58; 8/16/80, p. 101).

1980 | Toxic shock Federal scientists suspect that staph bacteria linked to tampon use are causing a puzzling increase in toxic shock syndrome (9/27/80, p. 198; 10/18/80, p. 247).

1981 | Ozone hole NASA reports satellite evidence that the stratospheric ozone layer is being depleted globally (8/22/81, p. 116).

1981 | AIDS detected An outbreak of two rare and serious diseases among homosexual men — Kaposi’s sarcoma and Pneumocystis pneumonia — mark the discovery of what would come to be known as AIDS (11/14/81, p. 309).

1982 | Ribozyme Thomas Cech and colleagues report that RNA can function like an enzyme to trigger the synthesis of proteins (11/27/82, p. 342). N

1982 | Artificial heart Surgeons successfully implant the first perma­­​nent artificial heart into a human (12/11/82, p. 372; 12/18–25/82, p. 388).

1983 | Exodisk Astronomers detect evidence for solid material around the star Vega, a sign of possible exoplanets (8/13/83, p. 100; 8/20/83, p. 116; 11/19/83, p. 324).

1984 | Brown dwarf Astronomers for the first time think they have evidence of a brown dwarf — a celestial object too big to be a planet but insufficiently massive to become a star (12/15/84, p. 373).

1985 | GMOs U.S. federal agencies approve the first two experimental releases of genetically modified organisms: antifrost bacteria for strawberries and tumor-resistant tobacco plants (11/23/85, p. 324).

1985 | Buckyballs Chemists identify a soccerball–shaped configuration of carbon atoms, nicknamed a buckyball (11/23/85, p. 325). N

1986 | Chernobyl An explosion triggers a meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine (5/3/86, p. 276; 5/10/86, p. 292; 5/17/86, p. 308; 5/24/86, p. 326; 8/30/86, p. 135).

1986 | Shuttle explosion The space shuttle Challenger explodes, killing all seven crew members, including a high school teacher (2/1/86, p. 68; 2/8/86, p. 85).

1987 | Ozone protection The Montreal Protocol to phase out stratospheric ozone-destroying chloro­fluorocarbons gets enough signatures; it goes into effect January 1, 1989 (9/26/87, p. 196; 11/19/88, p. 333).

1987 | Dino wipeout Grains of shocked quartz from around the world offer further evidence that a meteorite or asteroid struck the Earth more than 65 million years ago, causing mass extinctions of life — including dinosaurs (5/16/87, p. 309).

1989 | Exxon Valdez A tanker accident dumps more than 11 million gallons of crude oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound (6/17/89, p. 383; 7/15/89, p. 38).

1989 | Cold fusion Martin Fleischmann and B. Stanley Pons report on benchtop nuclear reactions that they describe as “cold fusion” but that are never confirmed (4/1/89, p. 196; 4/8/89, p. 212; 4/15/89, p. 229; 4/22/89, p. 244).

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