A team of scientists found the fossils of a 22,000-year-old ancient giant panda in China that belongs to an unknown family of pandas, as reported in a study issued in the Current Biology journal. The examination of the fossils unearthed in the Cizhutuo cave, in the Guangxi province, in China, showed that the separation of this giant panda lineage from modern-day pandas took place approximately 183,000 years ago.
“We need to sequence more DNA from older pandas to capture how their genetic diversity has changed over time and how that relates to their current, much more restricted and fragmented habitat,” said Qiaomei Fu, the leading author of the study.
The ancient giant panda of 22,000-year-old belongs to a different and unknown family of pandas
After analyzing a complete mitochondrial DNA sequence sampled from the fossils of the giant panda, the scientists concluded that they had discovered a “different and unknown” family of pandas, never seen before.
To draw this conclusion, the scientists sequenced about 150,000 DNA fragments and compared them with the reference mitochondrial DNA sequence of this 22,000-year-old giant panda to obtain its complete mitochondrial DNA genome.
The Chinese researchers compared the new ancient panda genome with the mitochondrial DNA genomes of 138 modern-day pandas and 32 ancient pandas to reproduce a family tree.
Their thorough analysis showed that the split between the recently found ancient giant panda and the common ancestor of today’s pandas dates back some 183,000 years.
The recently found ancient giant panda was living in caves
This evidence, according to the authors, indicates that pandas were “much more widespread” 22,000 years ago than they are nowadays, even though the finding didn’t reveal how those now extinct pandas related to modern-day pandas.
Qiaomei Fu and his team also pointed out that the fact that the remains were found in the Cizhutuo cave suggests that the species used to live in caves, unlike the modern-day ones.
Erin VanDyke lives on her family farm and has more than 35 years of hands-on experience with the use of livestock guard dogs for predator control. On their farm, Jan and her family use corgis as herding dogs and have raised Shetland sheep, Fainting goats, Morgan and Trakehner horses, and historic breeds of chickens and turkeys. Erin is also an active beekeeper.