Chinese and Danish scientists have successfully extracted genetic material from 1.9 million-year-old great ape fossils, revealing the origin and evolution of long-lost great apes, a study published in the November 13 issue of the journal Nature. Liao Wei, co-author of the paper and Ph.D. at Guangxi National Museum, said the genetic material was extracted from a fossil of a giant ape’s tooth, which came from a cave in Tiandong County, Guangxi Province.
According to reports, the great ape is currently known to live on earth’s largest primate. Fossils of great apes have been found dating back between 2 million and 300,000 years ago. The great ape has been widely distributed in southern China, and most of the 17 fossil sites found so far have been in southwestern Guangxi. The great ape, which has huge teeth and jaws, is two to three times the size of a human, and is thought to be more than 2 meters tall and weighs more than 300 kilograms.
Fossils of great apes were first discovered in the 1930s. In the 1950s and 1960s, Chinese palaeontologists first found the exact origin of great ape fossils in Guangxi. Liao Wei introduced that in recent years, Chinese paleoanthropologists have found a large number of great ape fossils from different periods in the cave deposits on the edge of The Baisai Basin in Guangxi and Chongzhu, and have made a preliminary understanding of the time when the great apeappeared and died out in southern China. In nearly a century of exploration and research, paleoanthropologists have basically identified the great ape as a sideline in the human evolutionary system, but the problems about the origin and evolution of great apes have long puzzled the academic community.
In May 2018, Wang Wei’ team, a professor at Shandong University’s Cultural Heritage Research Institute, and the Evolutionary Genome Laboratory at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, extracted and sequenced genetic material from the giant ape tooth fossil in Tiandong County, Guangxi Province. The researchers extracted genetic information from the 1.9 million-year-old great ape’s teeth. This is the first time that scientists have successfully extracted genetic information from fossils so old from subtropical regions. The results show that the great ape has the closest affinity to the Asian orangutans now living in Southeast Asia, and that the great ape separated from the orangutan family about 12 million years ago and evolved independently.
“In the subtropical region, genetic material information from fossils over 10,000 years is difficult to preserve intact. But the great ape’s tooth enamel thick and hard, forming a closed system, coupled with the discovery of the fossil is a relatively stable temperature and humidity cave, the preservation of fossils is also more favorable, these conditions, so that researchers successfully extracted genetic material from the study made a breakthrough. Wang Wei said.
Previously, scientists tried to find the creatures most similar to the great ape, but could only compare the shape of the fossils with the bone reference materials of existing apes, sequencing proteins extracted from tooth enamel nearly 2 million years ago, said enrico Capellini, a professor at the University of Copenhagen and author of the paper. The evolutionary relationship between great apes and similar species can be clearly underdisplayed.