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Bigfoot DNA? Not so fast, many say

November 27, 2012|By Eryn Brown | Los Angeles Times
  • An artist's depiction of Bigfoot. A scientist claims to have sequenced Bigfoot DNA. Others aren't so sure they believe it.
An artist's depiction of Bigfoot. A scientist claims to have sequenced… (William M. Rebsamen )

A Texas veterinarian-researcher claims to have shown that the elusive creature known as Bigfootor Sasquatch is a human hybrid, descended from human females who mated with males of “an unknown hominin species.”  In a statement released on Saturday, Melba S. Ketchum said that her conclusions emerged after she sequenced samples of purported Sasquatch DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA in the samples, which offspring inherit from their mothers, was identical to modern human mitochondrial DNA, she said. But the nuclear DNA samples — the genetic blueprint that mixes genetic material from both parents — appeared to be a mix between human nuclear DNA and “novel non-human sequence.” 

“Genetically, the Sasquatch are a human hybrid with unambiguously modern human maternal ancestry,” Ketchum said in the statement.

But many others weren’t yet convinced.  A few of their reasons:

This is Bigfoot we’re talking about, a creature that has never definitively been observed, despite decades (centuries?) of reported sightings. Over the years, Los Angeles Times reporters Kim Murphy and Eric Bailey both wrote about scientific and not-so-scientific searches for the possibly mythical man-beast.   

A related problem: As no one has yet seen or captured or exhumed a Sasquatch, many question whether Ketchum’s samples actually came from such an animal. Ketchum’s statement did not describe where she got her DNA samples. 

Ketchum said the work was currently undergoing peer review—the process by which scientific journals vet research for publication—and that no further details of the analysis would be revealed until the research was published. Most scientists are hesitant to make judgments about research until data are published.  University of Wisconsin anthropologist John Hawks, an expert on human evolution, wrote on his blog that he was withholding judgment until results were available. “No data, no discovery,” he wrote.    

Judging on the basis of the information Ketchum and her team did release, at least one skeptic argued that the little bit known about DNA sequencing results didn’t necessarily indicate that an “unknown hominin” was involved at all. At NeuroLogicaBlog, Yale neurologist Dr. Steven Novella suggested that the samples that appeared to contain DNA from an unknown hominin may rather be contaminated samples from plain old modern humans. “The bottom line is this,” he wrote. “Human DNA plus some anomalies or unknowns does not equal an impossible human-ape hybrid. It equals human DNA plus some anomalies.”

The good news, for those curious about this, is that the chatter will continue. In addition to Ketchum’s data, results should emerge from the Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid project, led by University of Oxfordgeneticist Bryan Sykes, which will conduct tests on hair samples supplied by the public and said to come from Yetis, Bigfoots and the like. Those results should appear in a peer-reviewed journal, the Associated Press reported earlier this year.  

Also, Ketchum may be planning to film a documentary and write a book about her work, as this post details.

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