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Yes, We’re Actually Still Looking for the Yeti

Scientists are accepting DNA samples from cryptozoologists who claim to have evidence of the Yeti

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Bring me to your yeti leader, and I’ll test its DNA. Image: tolomea

Many scientists make their careers out of searching for the seemingly unfindable. The Higgs Boson, dark matter, the secret, hidden pieces of our universe. Other scientists search for things that probably aren’t real at all. Like yetis. Researchers are about to embark on a quest to determine once and for all whether or not Yetis exist.

That’s right, a Yeti hunt. It’s got a fancier name – the Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project – but it’s a serious, scientific, Yeti hunt.

The project focuses on DNA analysis. They’re accepting submissions of samples from pretty much anyone who thinks they have evidence of a Yeti. People send the material in to them, where it’s tested for DNA. That DNA can tell them a whole lot about whether the mythical beast exists.

Now, there have in fact been DNA tests on supposed Yeti samples before. Every time they’ve come back as being human. But DNA techniques have gotten better, and the scientists are willing to give it one last go. Well, at least some of them. BBC Futures sums up the scientific atmosphere:

It is likely that the project is the biggest and most comprehensive attempt yet to probe suspected “remains”. “Nothing like this, on this level, has been done before,” says Richard Freeman from the Centre for Fortean Zoology in the UK. But therein lies the rub.  For people like Freeman who devote their lives to looking for these creatures, it is the biggest signal yet that after years out in the cold mainstream science is finally taking the seriously. But for some scientists, the whole venture is an embarrassing curiosity to be held at arm’s length.

One of the scientists involved in the project, Bryan Sykes, sees this as a catch all for those who claim science brushes them off. ““It’s one of the claims by cryptozoologists that science does not take them seriously. Well, this is their chance. We are calling for people to send us their evidence, and we will test it through DNA analysis,” he told the BBC.

This DNA evidence will certainly not be a nail in any sort of Yeti coffin. Even if they find no evidence whatsoever of the yeti, many will still believe. Last year, the Huffington Post reported that some scientists were “95 percent certain” that they had found evidence of the Yeti. Before that, bigfoot “researchers” asked people in California for money to test whether the creature left residue behind on a pickup truck.

Even the director of the International Cryptozoology Museum is skeptical of many of these claims. He told The Huffington Post:

“This does not seem to be any more than what you hear about from weekend excursions in North America that go out, discovering some hair of undetermined origin, calling it ‘Bigfoot hair,’ then locating some broken branches and piled trees, saying it was made by Bigfoot, and finding footprints that look like Sasquatch tracks. These are not ‘proof’ that would hold up, zoologically.”

But even for Sykes, the geneticist behind the project, this is all a bit far fetched. He’s not ruling out the possibility of a new species – we discover new species all the time, many of them quite large. But he acknowledges that there will need to be some evidence. The BBC says, “he is also keen to point out that he is not – nor intends to become – a cryptozoologist. ‘I don’t not want to become completely eccentric,’ he adds.”

 

More at Smithsonian.com:

Did Bigfoot Really Exist? How Gigantopithecus Became Extinct
Meet the New Species

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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