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Top stories: Life after dinosaurs, Neanderthal planning, and Russia’s CRISPR babies

(left to right): HHMI Tangled Bank Studios; © RMO; SERGEY PONOMAREV

By Eva Frederick

How life blossomed after the dinosaurs died

When Ian Miller and Tyler Lyson visited Corral Bluffs, a fossil site 100 kilometers south of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Lyson was not impressed by the few vertebrate fossils he saw. But on a return trip, he split open small boulders called concretions—and found dozens of skulls. Now, he, Miller, and colleagues have combined the site’s trove of plant and animal fossils with a detailed chronology of the rock layers to tell a momentous story: how life recovered from the asteroid impact that killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

50,000-year-old, tar-smeared tool shows Neanderthal smarts

Old-school scholars considered Neanderthals brutish and simple, but recent research shows they made jewelry, had a precision grip, and may have even painted cave art. Now, a tar-caked tool found on a beach in the Netherlands supports the idea that Neanderthals could accomplish complex, multistep tasks that took planning ahead over several days.

Embattled Russian scientist sharpens plans to create gene-edited babies

How does a scientist responsibly edit human embryos? The answer, according to most researchers, is that you don’t—at least, not until massive safety and ethical hurdles are overcome. But to Russian geneticist Denis Rebrikov, who intends to use CRISPR to gene edit embryos that have a common mutation for hearing loss, the answer is: step by step.

One of these is a deadly viper. The other is a harmless toad. Can you tell the difference?

The Congolese giant toad, which grows to the size of a small hand, would be a hearty meal for any predator. But it escapes being eaten by birds, lizards, and snakes with a trick never seen anywhere else in the world: It looks and acts just like the Gaboon viper, one of the most venomous snakes in Central Africa.

AI allows paralyzed person to ‘handwrite’ with his mind

People who are “locked in”—fully paralyzed by stroke or neurological disease—have trouble trying to communicate even a single sentence. Electrodes implanted in a part of the brain involved in motion have allowed some paralyzed patients to move a cursor and select onscreen letters with their thoughts. Now, a new method has nearly doubled the speed with which such patients can “write,” from 39 to about 66 characters per minute.

Source: Science Mag