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Newly discovered fossil could represent first great apes

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A freshly unearthed 20-million year old skull may have belonged to a common ancestor of humans and the other great apes.

A team led by Martin Pickford, a paleoanthropologist at the College de France in Paris, and Bridgette Senut, at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, discovered the fossils last month, while excavating the semi-arid region surrounding the Napak Volcano in northeastern Uganda.

The team attributed the partially complete skull to the species Ugandapithecus major, a hulking Miocene era ape known mostly by its other body parts. “It was a pretty big animal, almost as large as a gorilla, about the size of a chimpanzee,” Pickford says.

His team plans to analyze the fossil more closely in France and describe it in a Ugandan scientific journal. But he says its small brain already stands out. “You’re talking about an animal that has the muzzle of a gorilla with the brain size that would go with a baboon,” Pickford says.

Its small brain and other facial features such as its teeth and palette could suggest that modern chimpanzees and gorillas have evolved substantially from their ape ancestors, Pickford says. The skull shares a number of features with modern-day orangutans, suggesting that the evolutionary lineage that gave rise to modern orangutans changed less.

But the evolutionary origins of great apes – humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans – are poorly understood, Pickford says. “Finding the skull of Ugandapithecus is really going to focus the debate on that particular linage, but we must not forget there were quite a few other species running around at the same time.”

Closer examination of the skull should firm up Ugandapithecus’ position. “My gut feeling at the moment is that it’s not far from the ancestor of modern African apes and orangutans,” Pickford says. “I’ve been waiting for about 30 years for this kind of discovery.”

Image courtesy of Martin Pickford, Uganda Museum, Kampala and the Uganda Palaeontology Expedition

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    Vincenzo Cassibba said:

    The new remains seem to me very similar to those ones of Afropithecus and Morotopithecus. Could they represent a step of a non-disconformity evolution of apes? Perhaps the evolution quiked it’s pace sometime after, more or less at the time of Samburupithecus?

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    Jason Tannery said:

    Let’s assume that evolution could be true. As all animals and plants could be traced back to a common ancestor, the common ancestor must be one that has to be capable in asexual reproduction. The only living things that could be found to be asexual reproduction are archaea, bacteria, protists, algae and fungi. As all these living things are either micro-organisms or the selected plants instead of any other living things, it implies the common ancestor could be either micro-organism or the selected plants. There are a few queries have to be raised pertaining to the reliability of the source that has been used to support the evolution:

    a)Biologists did successfully clone animals in the past and even to use the gene to improve the animals. However, what they clone, it just improves the living thing instead of modifying it into different kind of animals. If they would clone any animals, such as cow, they still produce cow at the end of the experiment without causing it to stream out into different kind of animal, such as giraffe or etc. Has there any experiment been performed in the past that could develop into a more complexity of animals, such as, from micro-organism to worm or fly or etc.? If none of the scientists have done the experiment successfully in converting micro-organism into a worm or fly or etc., other than merely a micro-organism, the evolutionary theory is simply a concept without being tested.

    b)As the common ancestor could be micro-organism or a selected plant, it is simply without bone structure or could be one that could have either plant embryo or animal. As this common ancestor could be an algae or fungi or archaea or protists or etc., how could it be able to be developed into both plants and animals with complexity of bone structure? Did biologists perform the experiment successfully to convert any of these living things into a more complexity of animal, such as, worm or fly or etc.? Or else, the evolution theory is just a concept without being tested.

    c)As this common ancestor could be either plant embryo or animal, how could it be able to stream out into plants as well as animals? Or in other words, how could this common ancestor be able to produce plant embryo as well as animal despite it was simply either micro-organism or plant? Did the biologists perform the experiment in the past successfully to cause micro-organism to be able to convert into both plants as well as animals with complexity of nature?

    Refer to the website address http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant under the sub-title of ‘Evolution’. A proposed phylogenetic tree of Plantae has been drawn. There are a few queries pertaining to the reliability of the evolution tree:

    There is a great work done in joining plants from one to another to determine the process of evolution. However, a query has to be raised whether the tree of evolution has been drawn through fixing the plants that ought to be there due to by comparing of feature of plants instead of through testing and observing the nature that these could occur. Let’s give you an illustration: From the chart, it could come to the conclusion that Chlorophyta was the predecessor right before the plants, i.e.Ulvophyoese, Cholrophyoese and Trebouxiophyoese. Did any biologists see or did perform experiment that Ulvophyoese could transform into Ulvophyoese, Cholrophyoese as well as Trebouxiophyoese in the past? If they did not do the experiment and just fixed them into the evolution tree due to the feature and/or the nature of these plants, it implies that there was no eye-witness or experiment did in the past to prove that Ulvophyoese could be able to evolve to Ulvophyoese, Cholrophyoese and Trebouxiophyoese.

    Some biologists might comment that evolution tree might be done through thousands and thousands of individual bits of data–observations made in the real world, testable and repeatable by anyone who takes the time to look. Things like the shapes of bones and how they fit together, genetic sequences, behaviors, developmental sequences, shared features with fossil forms and so on. As they did not perform the test whether the plants or animals could be transformed in accordance to the evolution tree that has been drawn, there could be a possibility that the evolution could not be workable as what has been laid out in the evolution tree. Besides, the plants could have been created in the beginning with identical features and they were not the result of evolution.

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