Is Nessie a myth, a conspiracy, or a real creature inhabiting the Loch Ness?
It is rumored that the Loch Ness–a deep freshwater lake in northern Scotland carved by glaciers more than 10,000 years ago–is home to the ‘monster’.
While researchers seriously doubt the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, they plan to sequence the DNA of every creature that inhabits the body of water where Nessie is supposedly located, just to be sure.
If scientists fail to find Nessie, they gain unprecedented and valuable ecological data.
As of April 2018, an international group of scientists led by University of Otago geneticist Neil Gemmell has started collecting water samples from the freshwater lake located in the Scottish highlands. The teams aim to take around 300 samples of water from various points across the Loch.
As noted by Professor Gemmell, when sea creatures move in the water, they leave traces of DNA behind, coming from their skin, feathers, scales, and urine.
In June of 2018, experts will commence extracting the DNA from the sample, hoping to discover among them, Nessie’s genetic fingerprint. The samples will be analyzed by laboratories in laboratories in France, Denmark, New Zealand and Australia. The samples will be sequenced by technology originally created for the human genome project.
Then, scientists will compare the DNA results to the database of known species. And by the end of the year, we should have an answer whether or not the Loch Ness Monster is real.
“I’m going into this thinking it’s unlikely there is a monster, but I want to test that hypothesis,” Gemmell said. “What we’ll get is a really nice survey of the biodiversity of the Loch Ness.”
And although the search for evidence of the Loch Ness monster seems may only seem as a “hook” for this project, the truth is that scientists will test a few hypotheses and may learn a lot about our environment.
“There is no evidence of the wels in Loch Ness, any more than there is any evidence of my favorite [candidate], sturgeon,” Loch Ness Project head Adrian Shine wrote in an email to The Skeptic. “Both theories originated as our attention focused more and more upon fish candidates among the reducing possibilities of any real unusual creatures being the cause of sightings.”
As Professor Gemmell explained, his team will compare lake DNA with those of modern reptiles, in line with the testimonies that attribute a plesiosaur aspect to the Loch Ness monster.
But Nessie could also be a giant fish, so they will do the same with known DNA sequences of fish.
Finally, to discard – or not – a final hypothesis that argues that it is “an animal unknown to science and unique to Loch Ness,” the experts will compare samples of environmental DNA from the Scottish loch with those of other bodies of water.
Environmental DNA or eDNA for short is a rather new field of study that’s giving scientists unprecedented insights. As noted by scientists, as creatures go about their daily lives they leave traces of themselves—traces of DNA—behind through poop, sperm, skin, etc., This mixture of leftovers also contains the DNA of the organism which ends up blended into the surrounding water and dirt. This, however, means that a vial of soil or water has the ability to act as a massive genetic library. Using new technology, scientists have the ability to decode this eDNA, and then compare it against the database of known DNA sequences in order to identify any potential unknown species.
According to a recent study published in the journal Science Advances, environmental DNA has detected 44% more shark species than any other detection method in New Caledonia, in the South Pacific.
“It’s a very powerful technology,” says Gemmell. “There is an extraordinary amount of new knowledge we will get from work on the organisms that inhabit the lake, the largest body of freshwater in the United Kingdom.”