DNA from a 22,000-year-old fossilized panda skull suggests an entirely separate lineage of giant pandas once roamed the area that is now southern China.
A cave explorer found the skull in Guangxi, a Chinese province that borders Vietnam. No giant pandas live there today—the giant panda population, which numbers fewer than 2,500, is confined to three provinces in central China. Research suggests the bears occupied large swaths of China in the past, but without DNA analysis, researchers haven’t been able to map out the entire giant panda family tree. This new work suggests some previously unknown branches.
After sequencing DNA that was lodged in the skull and comparing it to the genomes of modern-day giant pandas and 32 other ancient bears, the researchers found this bear from Guangxi shared a common ancestor with today’s giant pandas around 183,000 years ago. As the team outlined in their paper published [June 18] in Current Biology, this likely makes the newly discovered bears more of a parallel lineage rather than precursors to the giant pandas living in China now. And though the researchers couldn’t guess what the bear would have looked like, they know it was a plant-eater by analyzing carbon and nitrogen isotopes present in the fossil.
Read full, original post: Extinct Giant Panda Lineage Discovered Thanks to DNA From 22,000-Year-Old Skull