Top Stories: Breakthroughs of the Year, Narcolepsy, and Binary Math

V. Altounian/Science; Xavier Gigandet et. al./Wikimedia Commons; (photo) Sonelle, taken at the Johannesburg Zoo, South Africa

Top Stories: Breakthroughs of the Year, Narcolepsy, and Binary Math

Science's Top 10 Breakthroughs of 2013

Every year, Science picks a single outstanding scientific achievement as the Breakthrough of the Year. This year’s winner is cancer immunotherapy: harnessing the immune system to battle tumors. Check out Science’s full Breakthrough of the Year package to see our nine runners-up and find out what research to watch for in 2014!

Want to Fight Allergies? Get a Dirty Dog

A dog in the house is more than just good company. There’s increasing evidence that exposure to dogs and livestock early in life can lessen the chances of infants later developing allergies and asthma. Now, researchers have traced this beneficial health effect to a microbe living in the gut. Their study, in mice, suggests that supplementing an infant’s diet with the right mix of bacteria might help prevent allergies—even without a pet pooch.

The Secret Half-Lives of Scientific Papers

Scholarly papers can have relatively long “half-lives,” finds a new survey. More than one-half of the total downloads of the articles covered by the survey took place more than 2 years after publication, while in some fields it took more than 4 years for a paper to hit its half-life. The findings come as governments around the world attempt to establish policies and deadlines for making government-funded research published in private journals freely available to the public. 

When Cats Became Comrades

Ancient felines hunted crop-destroying rats and mice for early farmers, and in return we provided food and protection. At least that’s what scientists have long speculated. Now, they can back it up. Cat bones unearthed in a 5000-year-old Chinese farming village indicate that the animals consumed rodents and that some may have been cared for by humans. The findings provide the earliest hard evidence of this mutually beneficial relationship between man and cat.

Swine Flu Connection Provides Clues About Narcolepsy

The 2009 swine flu pandemic had a peculiar aftereffect in Europe: More children were diagnosed with narcolepsy, an incurable sleep disorder. Researchers eventually linked this increase to a widely used swine flu vaccine. Now, they've figured out how the vaccine might have triggered narcolepsy—and may have a new understanding of the disease itself.

NIH Details Plan for BRAIN Initiative

After nearly a year of meetings and public debate, the National Institutes of Health today announced how it intends to spend its share of funding for the BRAIN Initiative, a $110 million U.S. effort to jump-start the development of new technologies that can map the brain’s vast and intricate neural circuits in action. In short, it’s looking for big ideas, such as taking a census of all the cells in the brain, even if there’s little data so far on how to accomplish them.

Polynesians May Have Invented Binary Math

The binary system could be far older even than the invention of computers or even the invention of binary math in the West. According to a pair of anthropologists, the residents of a tiny Polynesian island may have been doing calculations in binary centuries before it was described by Gottfried Leibniz, the co-inventor of calculus, in 1703.