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This Week in Science: Apr 24, 2015

In Science this week, a team of Italian researchers reports on the results of a study of mitochondrial DNA obtained from the teeth of ancient humans, giving new insights into the downfall of Neanderthals in Europe. The Protoaurignacian culture appeared in southwestern and south-central Europe around 42,000 years ago, but it has been unclear whether it is the result of anatomically modern humans or the Neanderthals they soon replaced. By comparing the mitochondrial DNA found in a tooth obtained from a Protoaurignacian site to that of present-day humans, ancient modern humans, Neandertals, Denisovans, a hominin from Spain, and a chimpanzee, the investigators were able to confirm that the tooth belonged to humans. Given that Neanderthals disappeared from Europe by about 39,000 years ago, the researchers suggest that Protoaurignacians may have contributed to their decline.

Also in Science, researchers present data suggesting that peer review helps identify research applications with the highest potential impact. The researchers analyzed more than 130,000 research project grants funded by the US National Institutes of Health between 1980 and 2008, giving each a score during peer review. They then looked at the grant's scientific outcomes as measured by publications, citations, and patents and found that those with higher peer review scores were associated with better outcomes. The authors state that because peer review looks at more than an investigator's record and reputation, it offers a better indication of an application's scientific merit.