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article imageScientists start DNA hunt for Bigfoot, Yeti and cryptid species

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By JohnThomas Didymus     May 23, 2012 in Science
Oxford - Scientists say they are looking for genetic evidence of the existence of widely reported humanoids known in various parts of the world as Bigfoot, Yeti or Sasquatch, and other cryptozoological beings that have been claimed across the world.
National Post reports that a joint project between Oxford University and Switzerland's Lausanne Museum of Zoology will examine organic remains claimed to belong to alleged cryptid creatures. The Daily Mail reports Wolfson College, Oxford is asking for "samples of hair and teeth of cryptids," as part of a larger inquiry into the genetic relationship between "our own species Homo sapiens and other hominids."
Discovery News reports that researchers have requested that anyone with a collection of cryptozoological material submit samples for genetic identification. According to Discovery News, Bryan Sykes of Oxford's Wolfson College, who is working with Michael Sartori, director of Lausanne Museum in Switzerland, said: "I'm challenging and inviting the cryptozoologists to come up with the evidence instead of complaining that science is rejecting what they have to say."
The Daily Mail reports that cryptids are species whose existence have been claimed by people who say they have sighted them, but were never confirmed by science.
According to the Daily Mail, Yetis are the best known and most persistently reported cryptids. National Post reports that the mystery of the Himalayan Yeti began in 1951 when an expedition to Mount Everest returned with photographs of giant footprints in the snow. There have also been claims of sightings of the Yeti or "Migoi" in the Himalayas, National Post reports. In North America, there have been claims of sightings of Bigfoot or Sasquatch in the United States, the Almasty in the Caucasus mountains and "Orang pendek" in Sumatra.
Wired.com reports that Sykes said "Theories as to their species identification vary from surviving collateral hominid species, such as Homo neanderthalensis or Homo floresiensis (Denosivans), to large primates like Gigantopithecus widely thought to be extinct, to as yet unstudied primate species or local subspecies of black and brown bears."
According to Discovery News, Sykes said they will not be accepting samples haphazardly. The team is asking people who think they have authentic samples to send detailed descriptions, including origin and opinions about the sample, and if possible photographs. Sampling kits will be sent only for those materials deemed suitable for study. Sykes said: "As an academic I have certain reservations about entering this field, but I think using genetic analysis is entirely objective; it can't be falsified. So I don't have to put myself into the position of either believing or disbelieving these creatures."
National Post reports that Bryan Sykes comments: “It’s an area that any serious academic ventures into with a deal of trepidation... It’s full of eccentric and downright misleading reports."
The scientists plan to apply the latest advances in genetic testing to solving the decades old problem of Bigfoot or Yeti. Sykes said: “There have been DNA tests done on alleged yetis and other such things but since then the testing techniques, particularly on hair, have improved a lot due to advances in forensic science."
Sykes said that modern techniques could give valid results even from as little as a fragment of a shaft of hair.
National Post reports that tests that have been carried out in the past concluded that the alleged remains are human, but Sykes and his colleagues are allowing for the possibility of contamination of the samples. Sykes said: “There has been no systematic review of this material.”
The project will be studying Lausanne's archive of remains assembled by Bernard Heuvelmans. Heuvelmans had investigated reported sightings of Yetis from 1950 until his death in 2001. The researchers are also asking institutions and individuals to send any possible "Yeti" material they have. They assure that the samples will be subjected to "rigorous genetic analysis." The results will be published in peer-reviewed science journals, National Post reports.
According to Discovery News, collection of materials will run through September and genetic testing will follow in November.
Besides the search for possible remains of Yetis, the researchers are also interested in researching into interaction between the ancestors of modern Homo sapiens. He said: “In the last two years it has become clear that there was considerable inter-breeding between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals... about 2% to 4% of the DNA of each individual European is Neanderthal."
Sykes said: "It would be wonderful if one or more [of the samples collected] turned out to be species we don't know about, maybe primates, maybe even collateral hominids." According to Discovery News, "collateral hominids" include Neanderthals and Denosivans, a mysterious hominid species that lived in Siberia 40,000 years ago.
The project will take DNA samples from areas where sightings have been alleged, to see whether Neanderthal DNA is stronger in the local population.
Although Sykes is not expecting to find any reliable evidence of a Yeti or Bigfoot monster, he is keeping an open mind and says it will be happy coincidence if the project happens on a new species.
Sykes comments on the chances of success of the project: “The answer is, of course, I don’t know. It’s unlikely but on the other hand if we don’t examine it we won’t know.”
National Post reports there is a hypothesis that Yetis are surviving Neanderthals.
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