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A new study of human, Neanderthal, and Denisovan genomes pushes back the date our prehistoric cousins split off from early modern humans.

What they found: Neanderthals and Denisovans came from the same lineage that split off from ours about 744,000 years ago - almost 250,000 years earlier than previous studies indicated. Roughly 300 generations later — a fairly short time, in human evolutionary terms — the Neanderthals and Denisovans split off from each other.

Why it matters: Despite a growing number of fossils and a shared genetic history, we know fairly little about our most recent ancestors. We knew that Neanderthals and Denisovans were closely related enough to interbreed with each other and humans, but much of our shared past remains murky.

Past studies of Neanderthal genomes found they contained a high number of recessive genetic traits characteristic of inbreeding, which led researchers to conclude that there were only a few thousand Neanderthals in Europe. This study, however, estimates that there were tens of thousands of our ancient cousins in Europe, and that the high numbers of recessive mutations could be explained by living in small, genetically isolated sub-populations.

What they did: The scientists compared the genomes of modern Eurasians, modern Africans, and Neanderthal and Denisovans. They found some mutations were shared among all of the genomes, while others were only shared by Neanderthal and Eurasian genomes.

Go deeper

Mayors press Biden to adopt progressive immigration agenda

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A coalition of nearly 200 mayors and county executives is challenging Joe Biden and the incoming Congress to adopt a progressive immigration agenda that would give everyone a pathway to citizenship.

Why it matters: The group's goals, set out in a white paper released today, seem to fall slightly to the left of what the president-elect plans to propose on Inauguration Day — though not far — and come at a time of intense national polarization over immigration.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
15 mins ago - Health

Demand for coronavirus vaccines is outstripping supply

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Now that nearly half of the U.S. population could be eligible for coronavirus vaccines, America is facing the problem experts thought we’d have all along: demand for the vaccine is outstripping supply.

Why it matters: The Trump administration’s call for states to open up vaccine access to all Americans 65 and older and adults with pre-existing conditions may have helped massage out some bottlenecks in the distribution process, but it’s also led to a different kind of chaos.

Woman who allegedly stole laptop from Pelosi's office to sell to Russia is arrested

Photo: FBI

A woman accused of breaching the Capitol and planning to sell to Russia a laptop or hard drive she allegedly stole from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was arrested in Pennsylvania's Middle District Monday, the Department of Justice said.

Driving the news: Riley June Williams, 22, is charged with illegally entering the Capitol as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct. She has not been charged over the laptop allegation and the case remains under investigation, per the DOJ.

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