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

Twitter launches warnings on election misinformation and delays

Photo: courtesy of Twitter

Twitter will start pinning notices to the top of all U.S. Twitter users’ timelines warning that results in next week’s election may be delayed and that they may encounter misinformation on mail-in voting.

Why it matters: Delayed election results are expected across many states that are handling unprecedented amounts of absentee and mailed ballots, which President Trump has baselessly called "very dangerous" and "corrupt."

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
36 mins ago - Science

NASA confirms water exists on sunny parts of the Moon

Photo: NASA/JPL/USGS

Water on the Moon might be more easily accessible than previously thought, opening up new possible avenues for future human exploration, according to a new study.

Why it matters: NASA is aiming to send people back to the Moon as part of its Artemis program by 2024, with plans to eventually create a sustainable presence on the lunar surface. That sustainability relies on mining the moon for its resources, like water.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Pence no longer expected at Amy Coney Barrett's final confirmation vote

Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence no longer plans to attend the Senate's final confirmation vote for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Pence aide confirmed to CNN and Politico on Monday. On Sunday, Senate Democrats claimed that his presence after possible exposure to the coronavirus would be a "violation of common decency."

Driving the news: Five of Pence's aides were recently diagnosed with COVID-19, including his chief of staff, who is currently quarantining. Pence has continued his campaign travel despite his possible exposure, which goes against CDC guidelines.

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