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Top stories: tanked alcohol trial, Aztec human sacrifice, and speedy gene construction

NIH pulls the plug on controversial alcohol trial

The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, last week killed a controversial clinical study that was already on life support: the Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health trial. A working group assembled to review the study found that senior officials at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism actively and secretively courted the alcohol industry to fund the $100 million project, and saw to it that a favored principal investigator won the funding. 

Feeding the gods: Hundreds of skulls reveal massive scale of human sacrifice in the Aztec capital

The Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people in their capital city of Tenochtitlan. Priests cut the victims’ hearts from their chests, then decapitated the bodies and defleshed the skulls. Most of these skulls were bound for the tzompantli, a monumental rack of skulls in the center of the city. Now, archaeologists at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have discovered and excavated its remains underneath a colonial period house in downtown Mexico City.

New technique could help scientists create a gene in just 1 day

Creating a new gene in a single day could soon be possible, thanks to a new technique that mimics the way the body copies its own DNA. Though the technology needs to clear a few more hurdles, it could one day let researchers speedily rewrite microbe genes, enabling them to synthesize new medicines and fuels on the fly.

Trump’s new oceans policy washes away Obama’s emphasis on conservation and climate

Marine conservation and addressing climate change are out. Jobs and national security are in. That’s just one message sent by a new executive order detailing a revised U.S. oceans policy released this week by President Donald Trump. The order formally revokes the 2010 oceans policy issued by then-President Barack Obama, and replaces it with a markedly different template for what the government should focus on in managing the nation’s oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes.

Exclusive: Neanderthal ‘minibrains’ grown in dish

Until now, the best insights into the neurology of Neanderthals—our mysterious, extinct relatives—came from analyzing the shape and volume of the spaces inside their fossilized skulls. But a recent marriage of three hot fields—ancient DNA, the genome editor CRISPR, and “organoids” built from stem cells—offers a provocative, if very preliminary, new option. At least two research teams are engineering stem cells to include Neanderthal genes and growing them into “minibrains” that reflect the influence of that ancient DNA.