We asked a selection of Europe’s scientists to shed light on their research and make predictions for the new year.
Despite the pandemic having upended so many aspects of our lives, scientists are optimistic about a slew of promising scientific advances they expect in 2022 in several research areas. Some breakthroughs will come because of Covid-19, with new vaccinations and therapeutic technology crossing over to benefit other disease treatments, such as for cancer.
Advances in space exploration – replete with planetary defence trial runs – are also in store, while leaps in quantum computing will generate advances in many areas, and perhaps an ethical discussion around some aspects of their use. With more powerful data-driven modelling at our fingertips, interdisciplinary research will guide us to a more sustainable future. Industries, such as fashion, will also embrace new technology to verify and trace their products’ global supply chains, ensuring greater transparency, sustainability and ethical practices.
Look out for smart apps, AI and sensory tech that will make transport, education and health more accessible and inclusive for all. And watch out for moves towards a cleaner-energy aviation industry as electric and hybrid aircraft take their nascent steps.
New studies in animal behaviour and health will also allow us to better predict and thereby prevent cognitive ageing and pathologies in humans.
Climate change and how to mitigate it will continue to dominate the headlines – alongside Covid – in 2022, prioritising the need to promote biodiversity as well as recycling for a more sustainable, circular and green economy.
These will coincide with calls for greater sustainability in food and other supply chains, and greater knowledge transfer between domains.
Read on to learn the science, research and innovation predictions for 2022 from a selection of European scientists.
Advances in Covid-19 vaccines and treatment, with crossover research benefits for other fields
As one would expect, scientists are predicting that Covid-19 will continue to dominate the science news headlines in 2022. For the latest, Horizon spoke to Professor Peter Piot, who co-discovered the Ebola virus in 1976 and is now Chief Scientific Advisor in Epidemics to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, as well as Handa Professor of Global Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, having served as its director until recently.
‘The Covid pandemic will probably continue to affect all parts of the world in successive waves, and research on it will likely continue to dominate life sciences news. This should include work on adapted vaccines effective against continuously evolving SARS-CoV-2 virus infection, on more effective therapeutics and hopefully simple, affordable diagnostics, as well as ever more sophisticated modelling and social science of viral spread, and the human and societal behaviours driving it – in addition to better understanding of vaccine hesitancy and trust in science and policy decisions. The impact of, and response to, the pandemic in low-income countries should be reported in greater detail, and original approaches are emerging. There should also be a growing number of reports on an emerging insight into the pathogenesis and treatment of “long Covid”. At the same time, we may see the collateral benefit of Covid-related research in other fields, such as the development of mRNA vaccines against other infectious diseases.’
Cancer nanovaccines: preventive, therapeutic, personalised therapy
Shedding light on this inspiring area, Dr Nanasaheb Thorat, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Fellow at the University of Oxford, UK, spoke to Horizon about his exciting research alongside that of his colleagues from around the world working in nanotechnology cancer therapy.
‘After billions of people were vaccinated with the nanotechnology-enabled mRNA Covid-19 vaccine last year, 2022 will see new-generation cancer therapeutics that will advance cancer immunotherapy. Scientists across the globe are developing nanotechnology tools for personalised tumour vaccines that can prevent cancer recurrence and metastasis challenges. In combination with lipids, polymers, peptides and nanoparticles, the mRNA and other immune cell, viral vector and nucleic acid-based vaccine platforms will be available for cancer immunotherapy soon. The cancer nanovaccine will educate the immune system to recognise cancer cells in the early stage of carcinogenesis, so that it can recognise and eliminate them. These nanovaccines typically work best in the preventive setting for cervical cancers, HPV-related anal, cervical, head and neck, penile, vulvar and vaginal cancers, HBV-related liver cancer, bladder and colon cancer.’
New canine models to identify patterns in ageing and cognitive pathologies in humans
Understanding human dementia, ageing and other pathologies better by studying animals and their behaviour, such as dog companions, is something Dr Enikő Kubinyi from Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Hungary knows all about. She is a senior researcher at the Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University, leading the MTA-ELTE Lendület “Momentum” Companion Animal Research Group.
‘I expect the rise of canine biobanking. Companion dogs are emerging animal models to study ageing and related pathologies, such as dementia, with a potentially higher translatability to humans than laboratory animals. However, obtaining biological samples is challenging. My initiative, the Canine Brain and Tissue Bank, is based on donations, similar to human biobanks. Molecular and histological studies on these samples will uncover many mechanisms behind complex phenomena. From the humanities point of view, I also see a growing interest in the links between dog-keeping practices and the wellbeing of owners.’
BIOECONOMY & CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Transforming biowaste and other agro-industrial residues into renewable fuel
Separation technologies will create a paradigm shift in how we treat agro-industrial residues, from organic waste disposal to biorefineries, according to Professor Piet Lens, an expert in environmental biotechnology from the National University Ireland, Galway and the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, as well as triple Marie Curie fellowship recipient.
‘I expect 2022 to see the unlocking of the potential of biorefineries for Europe’s circular bioeconomy: organic waste management becomes an integral part of our daily economic activities, providing unprecedented levels of material recycling and reuse across EU Member States. Combined with new separation technologies and digital twins of biorefineries, I think we’re on the cusp of changing waste management from an end-of-pipe activity dislocated from the sites where it is located to a renewal activity producing new bio-commodities, biochemicals and biofuels integrated in value chains across Europe. Combining microbial ecology with novel separation processes and lifecycle analysis will be essential to advance this sustainability transition.’
Industry will embrace new technology, greater transparency and ethical practices
To find out about the future of smart-tech business practices, Horizon spoke to Dr Michela Puddu, who advises the United Nations (UN) on advanced technologies. She is also the chief developer of DNA markers, CEO and co-founder of Haelixa, a former MSCA Fellow, and the 2019 winner of the EU Prize for Women Innovators – Rising Innovator.
‘Covid accelerated the interest in tracing technologies to build the much-needed supply chain resilience and flexibility by providing real-time, end-to-end transparency. For instance, some renowned fashion brands and textile manufacturers, who are leaders in sustainability, have started using technology to trace products from the source to point of purchase. In 2022, and in the following years, we will see a growing demand for transparency, driven by consumers as well as by regulations making companies accountable for what happens in their supply chains. Moreover, the fashion industry will want to ensure there is a good traceability programme in place for when things go wrong: companies have learned that scandals and product recalls cost and inflict reputational damage often difficult to repair. To satisfy this demand, new options and technologies are emerging. The solutions that will dominate will have proven to be tamper-proof, scalable and easy to implement by businesses of any size. In the long-term, the cost of these technologies is expected to decline. In the near term, sharing costs between supply chain players is the way to reduce costs and realise economies of scale for traceability solutions.’
SPACE & AVIATION
Space missions will further explore our universe, even test theories in planetary defence systems
For the latest in space research, Horizon reached out to Dr Naomi Murdoch, a planetary scientist working at Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (ISAE-SUPAERO), who is also involved in the Hera and DART missions – by the European Space Agency and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), respectively – as well as in the InSight and Perseverance missions currently operating on Mars.
‘The year 2022 will be another exciting year for planetary exploration. The Psyche mission is due to begin its journey to explore an asteroid that is believed to be a fragment of a planetary core. This is the first mission to explore a world made not of stone, nor ice, but metal! Look out also for the DART impact late September 2022 – NASA’s DART mission will smash into an asteroid about the size of the Colosseum in Rome, attempting to change the speed at which it orbits around a larger asteroid. The change will be tiny (centimetres per second) but could make all the difference if we were one day to find an asteroid on an Earth-impacting trajectory. Using Earth-based telescopes, we should know whether humanity’s planetary defence dry run was successful within just weeks of the DART impact! However, in order to fully understand and interpret the impact, we’ll have to wait a few more years for the European Hera mission to the same asteroid.’
Watch: How to land on an asteroid
First sparks in cleaner aviation – Including fully electric aircraft and hybrid concepts
Dr Andreas Strohmayer, chairman of the European Aeronautics Science Network (EASN) and an expert on hybrid electric flight and scaled unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flight, spoke to Horizon about the future of European aviation.
‘The year 2022 will see the start of the Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking. European aeronautical research will focus on a more sustainable air transport system, working on the required technologies, digital tools and methodologies and aiming for actual demonstration later this decade. The general aviation market segment will see more fully electric aircraft programmes heading for certification, while at the same time several hybrid-electric concepts will be prepared for successful demonstration. Climate change has to be accepted as a serious challenge for future aircraft generations – the sooner we join forces to address this challenge, the sooner we might see actual impact in terms of emissions and sustainability.’
Prioritising biodiversity and working together across fields to mitigate climate change
Horizon reached out to Dr Spyros Theodoridis, scientific investigator and MSCA Postdoctoral Fellow at Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, Frankfurt am Main. He predicts scores of interdisciplinary studies will enable us to better tackle the effects of global environmental change – primarily global warming – on species and ecosystems.
‘Accumulating scientific evidence during the past few years shows that human wellbeing is inextricably linked to the way we interact with nature and biodiversity. I expect this realisation to further motivate scientific advancements that will help us halt and reverse biodiversity loss and provide solutions to the ongoing environmental crisis. Robust models for predicting climate extremes and the associated risk of species extinction and ecosystem collapse, direct quantification of the impact of biodiversity loss on human health, nature-based therapies for major diseases, and resource-efficient and carbon-neutral food production are some breakthroughs that would prioritise biodiversity and should make this year’s science headlines.’
High tech to unlock the secrets of the past to better model our climate future
Scientists using scaled-up high tech will produce unprecedented insights into early human migration and other patterns – and the factors that affected them – helping us better model our climate future, said Dr Sebastian Breitenbach, a palaeoclimatologist from Northumbria University, UK.
‘The timing and dynamics of the peopling of Eurasia remains shrouded in mystery. Several international and highly interdisciplinary research teams are currently evaluating long-standing paradigms, and new investigations open leads to a deeper understanding of when humans moved across Eurasia and how climatic and environmental changes guided these migration patterns. We can expect groundbreaking revelations from these integrative anthropological-archaeological-palaeoclimatological-modelling studies. Reconstructing the links between environment and human migration is not only of academic interest but can also inform policymakers on feasible mitigation and adaptation strategies in response to anthropogenic warming.’
The creation and implementation of fairer and more resilient food systems
Professor Anna Davies shares her forecast about the future of food security and sustainability. She chairs the Geography, Environment and Society department at Trinity College Dublin and is also a member of the Royal Irish Academy and Principal Investigator of SHARECITY, a European Research Council (ERC) project.
‘Covid-19 will, alongside climate change, biodiversity loss and global inequalities, continue to impact food security and sustainability in 2022. The coincidence of these negative shocks also creates a powerful new leverage point for action. I expect to see an expansion of transdisciplinary research, that is scientists of all disciplines working collaboratively with public, private and civil society sectors, as well as with citizens, focused on co-designing and enacting fairer and more resilient food systems for people and the planet. Such activities will not be quick or easy, and will require active, long-term efforts and investments by all actors, in particular amplifying the voices of the vulnerable and marginal who are seldom heard.’
DIGITAL & IT
Digital and high tech will deepen cooperation across disciplines
Better digital resources, haptic communication and sensory technology will be rolled out to help the elderly and those with disabilities and tackle environmental emergencies like climate change and forest fires, Dr Nasrine Olson tells Horizon. She is a senior lecturer and researcher at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science at the University of Borås in Sweden.
‘I expect to see extended attention to equal opportunities for all and the development of innovative assistive technologies to enable all members of society to equally enjoy life and participate in society, regardless of potential variations in perceptual modalities, or cognitive and functional abilities. As part of this, we will witness new solutions involving sensor technologies and haptic communication. I also expect that global challenges such as climate change and forest wildfires will receive further attention in broad multidisciplinary collaborations where environmental, technical and social sciences will come together for holistic climate resilient solutions. Sensor technologies, information fusion, big data processing, computational modelling and citizen engagement will all play key roles.’
Quantum computing – scaling up and producing applications across wide-ranging sectors
Horizon spoke to Carla Caro Villanova, an 18-year-old physics student at the University of Barcelona in Spain. The winner of the first prize for 2021 in Computing at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS), she also won the silver medal at the Spanish Physics Olympiad in 2021 and features in the 2021 Forbes Top 50 Awarded Spaniards list. She is currently studying in her first year of physics at the University of Barcelona and doing research on quantum computing.
‘Quantum hardware and error mitigation are likely to be major spotlights of research, alongside improvements in software and quantum algorithms for near-term applications. Another field with increasing interest will be post-quantum cryptography. Also, research on error correction for fault-tolerant quantum computing is essential to scale up quantum computers. In addition, some experts point to “quantum utility”, whereby quantum systems provide an advantage in applications like simulating molecules and materials. Finally, I hope to see more discussions around the ethical aspects of quantum computing, as great power comes with great responsibility.’
Deeper sharing of data and knowledge transfer among domains
Sharing her insights, Dr Michela Magas spoke to Horizon about the tools fostering invention and creativity. Bridging the worlds of science and art, design and technology, and academic research and industry, and with a track record of over 25 years of innovation, Dr Magas is innovation advisor to the European Commission and the G7 leaders, creator of the Industry Commons, Member of President Ursula von der Leyen’s High Level Round Table for the New European Bauhaus and winner of the EU prize for women innovators.
‘In 2022, we need to take a leap and establish a more permanent space for common understanding between knowledge domains. And we can do that by solving data interoperability and enabling cultural interaction. Culture exists in all the spaces between data-enabled nodes and synapses. This may appear intangible but data-driven systems do not only optimise activities or guide us: they create novel affordances that allow us to drive them in inventive or creative ways. To understand this, a simple analogy may be helpful: before the invention of a piano there was no pianist virtuoso, before the invention of a car, no racing driver talent could be discovered. Our experience has shown that by solving data interoperability between knowledge domains, we create novel technological affordances that allow us to rapidly upskill through knowledge transfer, find areas where we converge, and discover new and radically diverse talent.’
Stay tuned to see how these forecasts will unfold in 2022 and read more about the work of European scientists.
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