Legend of Loch Ness Monster will be tested with DNA samples
The stories seem as tall as the lake is deep. Visitors to Scotland's Loch Ness have described seeing a monster. Some believe lurks in the depths. This has happened
for hundreds of years.
But now the legend of "Nessie" may have no place left to hide. A New Zealand scientist is leading an international team. They are going to the lake next month. They will take samples of the murky waters. And conduct DNA tests. These will determine what species live there.
Neil Gemmell is a University of Otago professor. He says he's no believer in Nessie. But he wants to take people on an adventure. He wants to communicate some science along the way. Besides, he says, his kids think it's one of the coolest things he's ever done.
One of the more far-fetched theories is that Nessie is a long-necked plesiosaur. People think it somehow survived the period when dinosaurs became extinct. Another theory is that the monster is actually a sturgeon. Some think it is a giant catfish. Many believe the sightings are hoaxes. Others think it can be explained by floating logs or strong winds.
Gemmell said that when creatures move about in water, they leave behind tiny fragments of DNA. It comes from their skin. I comes from their feathers. It comes from their scales. And it comes from their urine.
He said his team will take 300 samples of water. These will come from different points around the lake. And they will come from different depths. They will filter the organic material. They will extract the DNA. They will sequence it by using technology originally created for the human genome project.
He said the DNA results will then be compared against a database of known species. He said they should have answers by the end of the year.
"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."
He said the real discoveries may come in determining things like the prevalence of invasive species.
Gemmell is 51. He said he first visited Loch Ness in his late 20s. He was on vacation. Like thousands of tourists before him, he gazed out over the lake. He was trying to catch sight of a monster. He said he first came up with the idea of testing DNA from the lake a couple of years ago. The idea resonated with many. This included his children. They are aged 7 and 10.
Graeme Matheson is chief of the Scottish Society of New Zealand. He, too, has visited Loch Ness. He also gazed out over the water. He wishes Gemmell all the best.
"I hope he and his cohorts find something, although I think they'll be battling," Matheson said. "Still, it's a good way to get a trip to Scotland."
Gemmell said that even if they don't find any monster DNA, it won't deter some Nessie believers. He said they've already been offering him theories. One such theory is that Nessie might be on vacation after swimming to the sea via hidden underwater caves. Another is that the creature might be extraterrestrial and not leave behind any DNA.
"In our lives we want there still to be mysteries, some of which we will ultimately solve," Gemmell said. "That's part of the spirit of discovery. And sometimes, what you find may not be what you were expecting."