In the summer of 2004, a 6-month-old girl who lived in the southeastern part of the Netherlands—prime, intensive hog-farming country—went in for surgery for a birth defect of her heart. As is routine in the Netherlands, which has excellent hospital infection control, she was checked before surgery for MRSA, the drug-resistant bacterium that can live on the skin without causing infections and can be unwittingly transmitted from one patient to another. The girl was carrying MRSA, which was a surprise—but the bigger surprise was that her MRSA strain did not render any results on the standard identification test, PFGE.
It's not easy to pick the biggest stories of the year for a subject matter as sprawling as science, but a few of them seemed to grab the headlines and simply not want to let go. Looking at that list, something striking was apparent: most of those stories were still developing, and would likely keep on grabbing headlines in the coming year. So, instead of simply running down the list of the top stories of the past year, we're going to spend some time explaining why they were big in the first place, and why they could get even bigger in the coming year.
For a science writer, these are the gifts that are just going to keep giving.