It is World Science Day for Peace and Development on 10 November, established by the United Nations in order to create awareness within our society of the importance of progressing in a sustainable manner. In fact, this year special emphasis has been placed on promoting the idea that science should be open and accessible to everyone.
This is a fundamental step, according to the UN, to foster scientific collaboration, to share knowledge, to put into practice new technologies and to gradually close the existing gaps between regions and countries. The figure that perfectly represented one of our greatest references in the field of scientific research was the recently deceased, Margarita Salas.
She was one of the main figures of biochemistry and molecular biology in our country. From her hands and mind emerged the patent of DNA polymerase, essential in the development of genetic engineering and biomedicine. It is now time to remember her legacy and tireless dedication to research and science, which lasted practically up until her very last days.
Her legacy and figure will be very present in many of the activities that have been programmed around the country to commemorate World Science Day. Such as those that have been organised by the Carlos III Health Institute for Science Week in Madrid. Or those that have been programmed during the Science and Innovation Weeks in the Canary Islands, designed in collaboration with a hundred public and private entities and in which some 50,000 people will participate.
Evolution on the necessary path to progress
Spain is currently trying to improve the situation of its CTI environment, which has been tremendously prolific throughout history. We were recently reminded in an exhibition at the XVI Congress of the Association of Spanish Language Academies (ASALE), held in Seville, that from our country emerged the first world map by Juan de la Cosa, produced in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. As well as extensive animal and vegetable inventories carried out by José Celestino Mutis in the 19th century of some 27,000 species.
In our memory remain the Nobel Prizes in Medicine of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1906), for his work on the structure of the nervous system, and Severo Ochoa (1959), recognized for finding the definitive way that led to the synthesis of ribonucleic acid (RNA).
At present, our top candidate to win one of these coveted awards is microbiologist Francis Mojica, a researcher at the University of Alicante. His work has been, is and will be decisive in the development of CRISPR-Cas technology, which is used to correct and edit the genome of any cell.
The work of researchers such as the current director of the National Centre for Oncological Research, María Blasco, a student of Margarita Salas and specialised in the study of telomeres and telomerase, cannot be overlooked either. Two components of DNA related to aging, cancer and cell failure.
Spain is also one of the countries participating in the next manned missions to the Moon. In fact, in the astronomical field our Spanish specialists have led work that has served to locate exoplanets with similar characteristics to the Earth.
In addition, our researchers from the National Research Centre on Human Evolution and the UCM-ISCIII Centre of Human Evolution and Behaviour have participated in international studies that have discovered new behaviours in Homo sapiens. All thanks to a 175,000-year-old jaw fragment located in a cave in Israel.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in regard to the breakthroughs in science and research that have taken place in Spain. And there is still so much more to be done, especially when the country signs the long-awaited Pact for Science which has been designed by the Confederation of Scientific Societies of Spain (COSCE) to which several political parties with high parliamentary representation have committed themselves.
Science in Parliament
It was within this inspiring framework that a few days ago the Congress of Deputies celebrated the first anniversary of the ‘Science in Parliament’ movement. An independent citizen initiative that began in 2018 that aims to make policy proposals based on science and scientific knowledge, and taking into consideration the needs of society.
The movement was organised by Andreu Climent, Eduardo Oliver and Lilian Grigorian, its aim is to provide an environment where policy makers can be in regular contact with agents from the world of science, technology and innovation (CTI) in Spain who act as advisors. Although the Scientific and Technological Advisory Office approved in March by the Congress Bureau has not yet been set up to carry out its activity, the foundations have already been laid.
In fact, ‘Science in Parliament’ has carried out various initiatives that have brought this culture closer to the political environment, such as that first meeting in November 2018. It was attended by more than 200 people from the world of science and almost 100 deputies, who debated various issues of interest and came up with possible solutions that could be adopted.
Throughout this time the movement had already been awarded several prizes, mentions and nominations within Spain. Publications such as Nature echoed the proposal which, has also become an inspiration for similar projects in other countries, as has happened in Italy.