Enamel proteome shows that Gigantopithecus was an early diverging pongine

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Gigantopithecus blacki was a giant hominid that inhabited densely forested environments of Southeast Asia during the Pleistocene epoch1. Its evolutionary relationships to other great ape species, and the divergence of these species during the Middle and Late Miocene epoch (16-5.3 million years ago), remain unclear2,3. Hypotheses regarding the relationships between Gigantopithecus and extinct and extant hominids are wide ranging but difficult to substantiate because of its highly derived dentognathic morphology, the absence of cranial and post-cranial remains1,3-6, and the lack of independent molecular validation. We retrieved dental enamel proteome sequences from a 1.9-million-year-old G. blacki molar found in Chuifeng Cave, China7,8. The thermal age of these protein sequences is approximately five times greater than that of any previously published mammalian proteome or genome. We demonstrate that Gigantopithecus is a sister clade to orangutans (genus Pongo) with a common ancestor about 12-10 million years ago, implying that the divergence of Gigantopithecus from Pongo forms part of the Miocene radiation of great apes. In addition, we hypothesize that the expression of alpha-2-HS-glycoprotein, which has not been previously observed in enamel proteomes, had a role in the biomineralization of the thick enamel crowns that characterize the large molars in Gigantopithecus9,10. The survival of an Early Pleistocene dental enamel proteome in the subtropics further expands the scope of palaeoproteomic analysis into geographical areas and time periods previously considered incompatible with the preservation of substantial amounts of genetic information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-265
Publication statusPublished - 2019

ID: 230342470