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New Zealand/UK: DNA Sampling

There's Something Fishy in Loch Ness

| Editor: Alexander Stark

A University of Otago geneticist announced the results of investigations into the environmental DNA present in Loch Ness.
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A University of Otago geneticist announced the results of investigations into the environmental DNA present in Loch Ness. (Source: CC0 / Pixabay)

University of Otago geneticist, Professor Neil Gemmell announced the results of investigations into the environmental DNA present in Loch Ness. The results come after 250 samples of water were taken around, through the centre, and into the very depths of the lake. The “monster-factor” has provided Professor Gemmell with an opportunity to showcase the science of eDNA to the world, and the project has subsequently drawn considerable interest.

Otago/New Zealand — The search for Nessie is one of the world’s most iconic and beloved mysteries. With over a thousand reported sightings dating back to the 6th century, Professor Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago says of all the ideas for what people have seen in the water, one of the more common, and outrageous, is there might be a Jurassic-age reptile or population of Jurassic-age reptiles such as a plesiosaur present in Loch Ness. “We can't find any evidence of a creature that's remotely related to that in our environmental-DNA sequence data. So, sorry, I don’t think the plesiosaur idea holds up based on the data that we have obtained,” Professor Gemmell says.

The research team tested other predominant theories of various giant fish; whether it be a giant catfish or a giant sturgeon, an eel, or even a shark such as a Greenland shark. DNA from each sample was captured, extracted and sequenced then compared against global DNA databases to reveal a comprehensive picture of life present in the Loch — examining the bacteria, the fish, and everything else in between. So there’s no shark DNA in Loch Ness based on the sampling. There is also no catfish DNA in Loch Ness based on the sampling. The scientists can't find any evidence of sturgeon either.

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The remaining theory that Professor Gemmell cannot refute based on the environmental DNA data obtained is that what people are seeing is a very large eel. According to Gemmell, there is a very significant amount of eel DNA. But are they giant eels? “The data doesn’t reveal their size, but the sheer quantity of the material says that we can't discount the possibility that there may be giant eels in Loch Ness. Therefore we can’t discount the possibility that what people see and believe is the Loch Ness Monster might be a giant eel”, Gemmell stated.

Professor Gemmell adds that further investigation was needed to confirm or refute the theory, so based on our data, giant eels remain a plausible idea.”

He notes that in 1933 researchers had also proposed that a giant eel might in fact be the explanation for some of the sightings made then. That idea then waned as notions of extinct reptiles became more prominent. He notes other evidence such as the video shot by Mr Gordon Holmes in 2007 which shows a four metre torpedo-like shape seemingly swimming on the Loch’s surface support the hypothesis of a giant eel, large fish, or perhaps a marine mammal.

Professor Gemmell is philosophical about the study findings, and believes no matter what science

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