03 Jul 2014

No Yeti, But a New Bear

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HarryandtheHendersons

“7 Daughters of Eve” DNA researcher Brian Sykes and his Oxford team decided to look into Bigfoot-Yeti legends from many continents.

IFL Science:

In 2012, they put out a call to museums and individuals for cryptid hair samples. What usually happens is a person hears one howling, and “then they see a clump of hair caught in a bush, and say ‘Aha, that’s come from the Bigfoot,’” Sykes tells National Geographic. They received 57 samples.

After weeding out plant matter and glass fibers, they selected 36 for genetic analysis. Over half came from the US; the rest are from Russian and South Asia. The team methodically cleaned 2-4 centimeter shaft samples, and then amplified the ribosomal mitochondrial DNA 12S fragment — a snippet commonly used for species identification. Some failed to yield DNA sequences, and the team ended up with 30 recovered sequences, which they compared with GenBank data. They got a 100 percent match for each one.

Most samples attributed to hairy beast-men were identified as known species living in their normal geographical range: 10 were brown or black bears, four came from some canine, and the rest were raccoons, horses, cows, sheep, deer, a goat-like serow, and a porcupine. One Texan sample came back as human (very unlikely Neanderthal). The sample that supposedly came from the Sumatran orang pendek (Indonesian for “short person”) turned out to be Malaysian tapir.

But there’s more! Two Himalayan yeti samples — one from Ladakh, India, and the other from Bhutan — came from a mystery bear whose closest genetic affinity is to an ancient polar bear, based on DNA from the jawbone of a Paleolithic Ursus maritimus who lived 40,000 years ago. The golden-brown Ladakh sample was collected by a hunter four decades ago when he thought he shot an abnormally aggressive brown bear. The reddish-brown Bhutan sample came from what was known to be a migyhur (or yeti) nest in a bamboo forest 3,500 meters in the air. The researchers suspect these hairs came from unrecognized bear species, color variants of polar bears, or maybe a polar bear x brown bear hybrid (pizzlies!), though they can’t know for sure without genomic sequence data.

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