Looking for Nessie

Looking for Nessie

I’ve long been fascinated by cryptids: It would be so cool to see a Sasquatch sashay across my backyard, pat Jill on the head, and keep going into the trees! Unfortunately, as a scientist, I must temper my enthusiasm with evidence. Which is why I loved digging into this tale of an international team of researchers, who unleashed science on the waters of Loch Ness.

For centuries, humans have been trying to figure out what — if any — large, snakelike mystery animal purportedly lives in Loch Ness. Guesses have ranged from a plesiosaur, to, um, a wooden and plastic head attached to a toy submarine. But scientists have now banded together to test the environmental DNA of the loch. Environmental DNA refers to, in short, the genetic traces of animals that exist in a habitat due to waste excretion, or shed skin, scales, or hair, that can be collected, assembled into a profile, and identified. From Popular Mechanics:

“‘There is a very significant amount of eel DNA,’ lead researcher Neil Gemmell, a geneticist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said in a press release […] After he and his fellow scientists from the U.K., Denmark, the U.S., Australia, and France analyzed around 500 million sequences from 250 water samples, they couldn’t find any traces of shark, catfish, or sturgeon DNA—or, crucially, long-dead, Jurassic-era dinos.

‘We can’t find any evidence of a creature that’s remotely related to that in our environmental-DNA sequence data,’ Gemmell said.”

But they did find DNA pointing to the presence of lots and lots of eels… Potentially GIANT EELS. Which could have been the source for the original myth, if spotted by folks without the biology know-how to correctly identify them. According to the Popular Mechanics report, divers in Loch Ness have surfaced with tales of spotting eels up to 13 feet long since at least the 1930s. I will swallow my disappointment that Nessie is still a myth — because it’s actually cooler that nature has cooked up an amazing real behemoth!