DNA discovery may shed light on legendary Yeti

By Grant Olsen, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Oct 23rd, 2013 @ 10:43am

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah residents saw a flurry of Bigfoot headlines in 2012 when a video surfaced on YouTube that allegedly showed one of the creatures in Provo Canyon. While the validity of that video, and the very existence of Bigfoot, has been repeatedly called into question, research by a British geneticist has potentially shed new light on another legendary creature: the Yeti.

Yeti, also known as abominable snowmen, are said to be ape-like creatures that walk upright and are taller than humans. They allegedly roam the Himalayan Mountains, and legends of their existence have been told in Nepal and Tibet for centuries.

Bryan Sykes is a professor of human genetics at Oxford University. As reported by CNN.com, he has been conducting tests for the Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project, which is seeking genetic evidence of creatures such as the Yeti and Bigfoot. A particular emphasis is whether or not these creatures would have a genetic link to humans.

Sykes issued an international call to museums, scientists and researchers for hair and tissue samples from Yeti and other “cryptids.” Any individuals who submitted samples were required to provide detailed descriptions of when and where they were found. Sykes was able to collect more than 30 samples.

According to the CNN report, Sykes focused his research on two hair samples from the Himalayas. One came from an alleged Yeti mummy in Bhutan and the other was found 800 miles to the west in the Ladakh region, and was reputed by locals to have come from a Yeti.

After extensive testing, Sykes was unable to find a genetic link to humans or any other living mammal. But when he compared the DNA to a broader database of animal genomes, he was shocked to discover that both samples genetically matched the jawbone of an ancient polar bear that was found in the Norwegian Arctic years ago and is at least 40,000 years old.

In a news release, Sykes called the polar bear match completely unexpected. “There's more work to be done on interpreting the results,” he said. “I don't think it means there are ancient polar bears wandering around the Himalayas.”

So what does it mean? In his news release, Sykes said that it might mean that a “subspecies of brown bear in the High Himalayas descended from the bear that was the ancestor of the polar bear.” He said it could also mean that brown bears have recently hybridized with the descendant of these ancient polar bears. Either way, he hopes the findings will help scientists get closer to determining the existence of Bigfoot and Yeti.

Sykes has submitted his test results for peer-review and will publish a book about his research in 2014. In the meantime, he hopes that his discovery will show those who believe in legendary creatures that science has not completely abandoned them.

“ ‘Bigfootologists' and other enthusiasts seem to think that they've been rejected by science," said Sykes. "Now I think that's a complete distortion of what science is about. Science doesn't accept or reject anything. All it does is examine the evidence, and that is what I'm doing."

According to Sykes, the truth about the Yeti may be closer than ever. "The next thing is go there and find one,” he said.

Grant Olsen joined the ksl.com team in 2012. He covers travel, outdoor adventures and other interesting things. Contact him at grant@thegatsbys.com.

Grant Olsen, KSL.com Contributor

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