Weekly roundup

(Left to right): B. Christopherr/Alamy Stock Photo; Image courtesy of the Yukon government; Photo Resource Hawaii/Alamy Stock Photo

Top stories: A very ancient hobbit, four new element names, and the U.S. Academies weigh in on risky GMO technology

Four new element names are on the table

Time to throw out that old copy of the periodic table: New names have just been penciled in for four elements officially recognized back in December. Nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson will grace the blocks assigned to atomic numbers 113, 115, 117, and 118, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry said this week. Barring any serious challenges during a 5-month public comment period, the new names will be officially added to the table by the end of this year.

U.S. Academies gives cautious go-ahead to gene drive

Gene drives—genetic modifications that rapidly spread through a population of organisms—could be a powerful tool for combating disease-spreading animals like mosquitoes. But the technology worries many who believe the risks outweigh the possible benefits. Now, a new report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine stresses that although gene drives offer great promise for agriculture, conservation, and public health, much more work needs to be done before they are deployed in the field.

Humans didn’t wait on melting ice to settle the Americas

For most of the last ice age, enormous glaciers covered western Canada. And yet people still managed to cross deep into the Americas from their settlements in western Alaska. How did they do it? Archaeologists once thought a narrow strip of land opened up between the glaciers, allowing them passage. But now, a new study of bison fossils suggests the corridor could not have been the first route people took into the New World.

NIH gets $2 billion boost in Senate spending bill

This week, a Senate spending panel approved a $2 billion boost in 2017 for the National Institutes of Health, or a 6.2% increase to $34.1 billion. It's the second year in a row that the Senate has slated the agency for a large increase after 12 years of flat budgets.

Tiny jaw reveals dawn of the hobbit

From the moment that the announcement of a 1-meter-tall ancient human nicknamed “the hobbit” shocked the world in 2004, supporters and skeptics alike have longed for more fossils. After the first couple years of discoveries, the research team kept digging, hoping to shore up the creature’s status as a separate species and settle the mystery of its origins. Now, 74 kilometers away from the original site, they’ve finally found remains from a hobbit—even smaller than those at the original site, and hundreds of thousands of years older.

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