Monday, 25 November 2019

Extinct giant ape directly linked to the living orangutan

Date: November 13, 2019
Source: University of Copenhagen The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

By using ancient protein sequencing, researchers have retrieved genetic information from a 1.9 million year old extinct, giant primate that used to live in a subtropical area in southern China. The genetic information allows the researchers to uncover the evolutionary position of Gigantopithecus blacki, a three-meter tall and may be up to 600 kg heavy primate, revealing the orangutan as its closest, living relative.

It is the first time that genetic material this old has been retrieved from a warm, humid environment. The study is published in the scientific journal Nature, and the results are groundbreaking within the field of evolutionary biology, according to Frido Welker, Postdoc at the Globe Institute at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and first author of the study.

'Primates are relatively close to humans, evolutionary speaking. With this study, we show that we can use protein sequencing to retrieve ancient genetic information from primates living in subtropical areas even when the fossil is two million years old. Until now, it has only been possible to retrieve genetic information from up to 10,000-year-old fossils in warm, humid areas. 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 similar information on the evolutionary line leading to humans', says Frido Welker.


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