Orangutan is 2-million-year-old extinct ape’s closest relative

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Researchers have used historical protein sequencing to retrieve genetic info from a 1.9-million-year-old, extinct, large primate that used to reside in a subtropical space in southern China.

The genetic info allowed the researchers to uncover the evolutionary place of Gigantopithecus blacki, a primate that stood nearly 10-feet tall (three meters) and weighed as much as 322 kilos (600 kg), revealing the orangutan as its closest, residing relative.


It’s the first time that researchers have retrieved genetic materials this previous from a heat, humid atmosphere.

“Primates are comparatively near people, evolutionary talking. With this examine, we present that we are able to use protein sequencing to retrieve historical genetic info from primates residing in subtropical areas even when the fossil is 2 million years previous,” says Frido Welker, postdoc on the Globe Institute on the School of Well being and Medical Sciences on the College of Copenhagen and first writer of the examine, revealed in Nature.

“Till now, it has solely been doable to retrieve genetic info from as much as 10,000-year-old fossils in heat, humid areas. That is attention-grabbing, as a result of historical stays of the supposed ancestors of our species, Homo sapiens, are additionally primarily present in subtropical areas, notably for the early a part of human evolution. Because of this we are able to probably retrieve related info on the evolutionary line resulting in people.”

Discovery in enamel

Right now, scientists know that human and chimpanzee lineages break up round seven or eight million years in the past. With the earlier methodologies, nonetheless, researchers might solely retrieve human genetic info newer than 400,000 years previous.

The brand new outcomes present the potential of extending the genetic reconstruction of the evolutionary relationships between our species and extinct ones additional again in time, at the least as much as two million years—overlaying a a lot bigger portion of human evolution.

In one other current examine, additionally revealed in Nature, Enrico Cappellini, affiliate professor on the Globe Institute and senior writer of the brand new examine, demonstrated the huge potential of historical protein sequencing.

The ape's jaw still has some teeth attachedGigantopithecus blacki mandible. (Credit score: Wei Wang/Theis Jensen)

“By sequencing proteins retrieved from dental enamel about two million years previous, we confirmed it’s doable to confidently reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of animal species that went extinct too distant in time for his or her DNA to outlive until now. On this examine, we are able to even conclude that the lineages of orangutan and Gigantopithecus break up up about 12 million years in the past,” Cappellini says.

To make sequencing two-million-year-old protein stays doable, researchers stretched mass spectrometry, the know-how on the base of proteomic discovery, to the restrict.

Orangutan relative

Researchers initially found the fossil proof—presently restricted to just some decrease jaws and plenty of enamel—attributed to Gigantopithecus in southern China in 1935. Researchers haven’t but discovered a whole cranium or different bones from the remainder of the skeleton, which has led to lots of hypothesis concerning the bodily look of this mysterious animal.

“Earlier makes an attempt to grasp which may very well be the residing organism most just like Gigantopithecus might solely be based mostly on the comparability of the form of the fossils with skeletal reference materials from residing nice apes,” says Cappellini.

“Historic DNA evaluation was not an possibility, as a result of Gigantopithecus went extinct roughly 300,000 years in the past, and within the geographic space Gigantopithecus occupied no DNA older than roughly 10,000 years has been retrieved thus far. Accordingly, we determined to sequence dental enamel proteins to reconstruct its evolutionary relation with residing nice apes, and we discovered that orangutan is Gigantopithecus‘ closest residing relative.”

Extra researchers from Novo Nordisk Basis Heart for Protein Analysis. Villum Fonden, the Novo Nordisk Basis, and the Marie Sklowowska-Curie Actions Particular person Fellowship and Worldwide Coaching Community packages funded the work.

Supply: College of Copenhagen