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Searching for Big Foot and Finding Real Science, Instead

Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster may or may not be hoaxes, but research into their existence can still yield meaningful scientific knowledge.

Scientific American relates the story of Charlotte Lindqvist, a geneticist at the University at Buffalo who, a few years back, examined some fur and bone samples provided by a film crew searching for Big Foot. The samples, they thought, could prove the existence of the big hairy beast.

Lindqvist didn't, but she agreed to analyze them anyway on the suspicion that the samples came from bears, which in the Himalayan region and Tibetan Plateau tend to be elusive. "I saw my opportunity to get hold of some samples that would otherwise be very hard to get," she says.

Sure enough, the samples, for the most part, came from Tibetan brown bears, an Asian black bear, and a Himalayan brown bear. Furthermore, looking at the mitochondrial DNA sequence and regular DNA, Lindqvist determined that 650,000 years ago, a single population of bears was separated by glaciers, creating two isolated populations that over time became two distinct subspecies, the Himalayan brown bear and the Tibetan brown bear.

Later this month, Neil Gemmell, a geneticist at the University of Otago, will begin a project to sequence DNA from Loch Ness. Does he believe he will find Nessie, the supposed inhabitant of the lake?


But he believes his work will yield other discoveries not as otherworldly as the Loch Ness Monster but which could be scientifically important. "Not many people are interested in hearing about what we're discovering," Gemmell, an environmental DNA scientist, says, "but they are interested in the Loch Ness Monster."

According to Science, his work has attracted the attention of media around the world.

"I think it’s neat!" he says. "And my kids think it's neat."