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Surgeons often use metal pieces such as screws and plates to hold broken bones together. Soon, there may be another, better option: ceramic implants created by 3D printers.

Many researchers have touted the medical promise of additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing. As the technology has become cheaper and more precise, the medical community has embraced it, creating things like prosthetic limbs, tissue with blood vessels, and even biosynthetic ovaries using 3D printing techniques. Now Hala Zreiqat, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Sydney in Australia, has shown the capacity for 3D printed implants to heal broken bones by not just holding them together, but encouraging new bone growth.

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One of the teeth which was found in the excavation. Photo: DPA.

Forty-three years ago in east Africa, a team of scientists unearthed fossilized skeletal remains that rewrote the history of humanity. “Lucy,” an extinct primate of the family Hominidae (which includes humans), walked upright 3.2 million years ago and was believed to be our oldest found human ancestor. Last year, however, paleontologists in Germany discovered fossilized teeth, three times older than Lucy, that might once again rewrite our understanding of human evolution.

The dental remains were found during a research excavation near the town of Eppelsheim, in a former bed of the the Rhine river. The region has been a popular location for fossil hunters ever since a fossilized femur found in the 1820s launched the fields of paleontology and paleoanthropology. Deutsche Welle reports that although the 9.7 million-year-old teeth do not match any other known species found in Europe or Asia, they do resemble those belonging to Lucy. This baffled the research team so much that they delayed publishing their research for a year.

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