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Gigantopithecus' Place in the Family

Researchers have teased out proteins from a tooth same belonging to an ancient ape called Gigantopithecus blacki, Science News reports.

G. blacki was first described in 1935 based on a molar that was found at a market in China where it was being sold as a dragon's tooth and, since then, thousands of teeth and a handful of jaw samples from the ape have been uncovered, Smithsonian adds. Analyses, Science News notes, have indicated that thee fossils are between 300,000 and 2 million years old and suggest that that G. blacki weighed between 440 and 660 pounds.

A team of researchers led by the University of Copenhagen's Enrico Cappellini extracted and analyzed proteins from a 1.5 million-year-old G. blacki molar. By comparing this enamel proteome to those of other hominids, the researchers found that Gigantopithecus is a sister clade to Pongo — the genus that includes orangutans — and that they shared a common ancestor about 10 million to 12 million years ago, as they report this week in Nature.

"Until now, all that was known about this species was based on the morphology of the many teeth and the few mandibles found, typical of a herbivore," Cappellini says in a statement. "Now, the analysis of ancient proteins, or paleoproteomics, has allowed us to reconstruct the evolutionary history of this distant relative."