Giant extinct primate is directly related to orangutans

16 Novembre, 2019, 19:23 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Landscape of the area surrounding Chuifeng cave in China

You are free to share this article under the Attribution 4.0 worldwide license. In a stunning discovery, scientists have unearthed new evidence of the so-called "original Bigfoot", a 10-foot tall ape that lived almost 2 million years ago.

Known as Gigantopithecus blacki, researchers found that the giant primates live in southeast China around 1.9 million years ago.

"The two factors combined have helped researchers retrieve genetic materials from the enamel of the great ape fossil and make a breakthrough in the research", said Wang, whose team unearthed the fossil in 2008.

"The analysis revealed that Gigantopithecus blacki belongs to the same clade as the orangutan, its closest living relative, although its separation with the current orangutans is very distant, which explains the previous confusion in the field", said co-lead author Dr. Tomas Marques-Bonet, a scientist at the University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.

It's the first time that such outdated genetic materials have been retrieved from warm, humid surroundings.

Welker continued: "This is interesting, because ancient remains of the supposed ancestors of our species, Homo sapiens, are also mainly found in subtropical areas, particularly for the early part of human evolution. This means that we can potentially retrieve related data on the evolutionary line resulting in people", says Frido Welker. For example, in subtropical Asia where Gigantopithecus lived, the only viable DNA previously obtained came from other animals' fossils that were no more than 10,000 years years old, according to a new study, published online today (Nov. 13) in the journal Nature. When compared to them with humans, orangutans, and primates like gorillas and chimpanzees, they were more similar to the orangutans.

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"What we observed is the number of differences in the sequences", said lead study author Enrico Cappellini, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen. Chinese and Danish scientists have successfully retrieved genetic materials from a 1.9-million-year-old fossil of Gigantopithecus blacki, a species of great ape.

'By sequencing proteins retrieved from dental enamel about two million years old, we showed it is possible to confidently reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of animal species that went extinct too far away in time for their DNA to survive till now.

The fossil evidence of Gigantopithecus was initially discovered in southern China in 1935, with dozens of teeth and a few partial jaws of the species later found in several spots in southern China, Vietnam and even India. No complete skull and no other bone from the rest of the skeleton has been found so far.

"Ancient DNA analysis was not an option, because Gigantopithecus went extinct approximately 300,000 years ago, and in the geographic area Gigantopithecus occupied no DNA older than approximately 10,000 years has been retrieved so far". Consequently, we made a decision to sequence the dental enamel proteins to reconstruct their evolutionary relationship with the great living apes, and we discovered that the orangutan is Gigantopithecus& # 39; closest living relative & # 39;, says Enrico Cappellini.

The research is mainly funded by VILLUM FONDEN, the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the programs of the International Network of Scholarships and International Training Marie Sklowowska-Curie Actions.

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