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Who Goes There?

Environmental DNA, genetic material sloughed off by organisms as they go about their business, can tell researchers who has been where, and this, Smithsonian Magazine notes, could be used to track elusive loch-dwelling creatures.

"I really don't want to become known as the guy who is looking for the Loch Ness Monster," the University of Otago's Neil Gemmell tells Smithsonian. "But I do think it's a great hook to get people talking about eDNA."

As Smithsonian reports, researchers are using eDNA to study non-mythical creatures like the endangered Yangtze finless porpoise, the cave dragon salamander, and the Japanese sea nettle. For instance, University of Amsterdam's Kathryn Stewart is using eDNA to sample Yangtze finless porpoises and determine what's contributing to their decline. She's further developing it to not only gauge whether or not the porpoises are present, but how abundant they are.

And Rockefeller University's Mark Stoeckle is sampling the waters off New York to gauge how robust eDNA sampling is, finding that it uncovered the fish that were supposed to be there when they were supposed to be there, it adds.

Stoeckle notes that there's no technical limitation that would prevent eDNA from being used to look for Nessie. "The only problem," he tells Smithsonian, "is whether the Loch Ness Monster actually exists."

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