An Otago scientist equipped with a special set of DNA is out to discover if the long-fabled Loch Ness Monster is actually real.
The deep and murky waters of Loch Ness have foiled many a monster hunter in search of evidence of the legendary Nessie. Now, a team of scientists has decided they don’t need to rely on their eyes, but instead on DNA analysis.
Professor Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago, New Zealand is leading an expedition to Loch Ness this spring. The researchers will sample the lake’s environmental DNA (eDNA) “to identify tiny DNA remnants left behind by life in the loch.”
Gemmell’s team will be gathering little bits of DNA shed into the water from the fur, skin, scales, poop and urine of animals. “This DNA can be captured, sequenced and then used to identify that creature by comparing the sequence obtained to large databases of known genetic sequences,” he says.
This method will help the team generate a list of everything living in the loch, which they can also compare to other lochs.
Gemmell says he’s skeptical, but open to the idea they could find DNA indicating a large reptile that would match with a popular theory that Nessie is a surviving marine dinosaur.
“Large fish like catfish and sturgeons, have been suggested as possible explanations for the monster myth, and we can very much test that idea and others,” he says.
The team isn’t just looking for fictional monsters. They’re interested in learning more about native and invasive species and documenting new kinds of bacteria.
The legend of Nessie, a long-necked sea monster said to dwell in Loch Ness, has endured for decades through fuzzy photos, hoaxes and over 1,000 claimed sightings.
A 2016 survey of Loch Ness by Kongsberg Maritime turned up a prop Nessie used in the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
What we don’t have is any evidence of Nessie’s existence that has stood up to scientific scrutiny. But cryptozoology fans will happily follow this new expedition and wait with hope for the results.