Bryan Sykes, an Oxford University professor who studied and popularized the field of genetic ancestry, has died, the New York Times reports. He was 73.
According to the Times, Sykes suspected that mitochondrial DNA could be used to trace people's ancestry, an idea he tested in the 1990s using samples from pet hamsters. All pet hamsters in the UK were thought to be descended from a single wild female caught in Syria, a notion Sykes confirmed by showing they shared a common genetic ancestor.
Sykes also wrote a number of books, the Times notes, including The Seven Daughters of Eve, which postulated that most modern Europeans are the descendants of one of seven women. He further launched the direct-to-consumer genetic testing service Oxford Ancestors.
He later analyzed samples collected by Bigfoot hunters and Yeti enthusiasts that purported to be from the elusive creature, but only found snippets of cow, black bear, dog, human, and Malaysian tapir DNA. "For Sykes it was all education as entertainment — he never seriously believed that such creatures existed, but sought to encourage curiosity rather than squashing it," the Guardian adds.