Wednesday, November 28, 2012

DNA claims Bigfoot part human

Genetic testing confirms the legendary Bigfoot is a human relative that arose some 15,000 years ago — at least according to a press release issued by a company called DNA Diagnostics detailing supposed work by a Texas veterinarian.

The report from Melba S. Ketchum also suggests such cryptids had sex with modern human females that resulted in hairy hominin hybrids, but the scientific community is dubious about her claim.

"A team of scientists can verify that their five-year-long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called 'Bigfoot' or 'Sasquatch,' living in North America," the release reads. "Researchers' extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago."

For her study, Ketchum obtained three "whole nuclear genomes from purported Sasquatch samples. The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species." (Mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, is the DNA that resides in the cell's energy-producing structures, and is typically passed down from mothers, while nuclear DNA, nuDNA, resides in the cells' nuclei and is passed down from both parents to offspring.)

"Our data indicate that the North American Sasquatch is a hybrid species, the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens," the statement reads.

Any proof?
 It's a fascinating theory.

So where's the evidence? Well, there is none. Not yet, anyway: Ketchum's research has not appeared in any peer-reviewed scientific journal, and there's no indication when that might happen. If the data are good and the science is sound, any reputable science journal would jump at the chance to be the first to publish this groundbreaking information. Until then, Ketchum has refused to let anyone else see her evidence.

Of course the history of Bigfoot is rife with exaggerated and premature claims about proof of the creature's existence. For decades, various types of evidence have been offered as final, definitive proof, ranging from Bigfoot hair to blood to dead bodies. Without exception, the evidence has always been a hoax, misidentification or inconclusive.

Because Ketchum has released no information at all about her findings (nor have they been examined by outside experts), it's impossible to evaluate the validity of her conclusions. But an important clue can be found in her statement that "Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens."

If the mitochontrial DNA is identical to Homo sapiens (i.e., modern humans), then this suggests one of two options. The first, endorsed by Ketchum, is that Bigfoot ancestors had sex with women about 15,000 years ago and created a half-human hybrid species currently hiding across North America.

There is, however, another, simpler interpretation of such results: The samples were contaminated. Whatever the sample originally was — Bigfoot, bear, human or something else — it's possible that the people who collected and handled the specimens accidentally introduced their DNA into the sample, which can easily occur with something as innocent as a spit, sneeze or cough. No one outside of Ketchum's team knows how this alleged Bigfoot DNA was collected, from where or by whom. It could have been collected by the world's top forensics experts, or by a pair of amateur Bigfoot buffs with no evidence-gathering training.

How did the team definitively determine that the samples were from a Bigfoot? Did they take a blood or saliva sample from a living Bigfoot ? If so, how did they get that close, and why didn't they simply capture it or photograph it? If the samples were found in the wild, how do they know it wasn't left by another animal — or possibly even a hunter, hiker or camper who left human genetic material?

Previous alleged Bigfoot samples subjected to DNA analysis have been deemed "unknown" or "unidentified." However, "unknown" or "unidentified" results do not mean "Bigfoot." There are many reasons why a DNA sample might come back unknown, including that it was contaminated or too degraded by environmental conditions. Or it could simply mean that the animal it came from was not among the reference samples that the laboratory used for comparison. There is no reference sample of Bigfoot DNA to compare it with, so by definition, there cannot be a conclusive match.

Ketchum also issued a statement requesting that the U.S. government immediately recognize Bigfoot as "an indigenous people and immediately protect their human and Constitutional rights against those who would see in their physical and cultural differences a 'license' to hunt, trap, or kill them." Since no Bigfoot has ever been hunted, trapped or killed, it's not clear that the creatures — if they exist — require any special federal protection.

Ketchum's is not the only genetics-based project intended to find Bigfoot. Earlier this year, researchers from Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology announced they were collecting samples of alleged Bigfoot and Yeti hair for genetic identification. Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes collected materials from the public from May through September, and is currently conducting DNA analysis. Once the results are in, he plans to submit his results to a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

If Ketchum has the definitive proof she claims, the world will soon know about it, and Bigfoot will be proven once and for all. On the other hand, if the evidence never appears, or is inconclusive and flawed, the search will continue.

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