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DNA analysis solves the 'Yeti' mystery: They're bears

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

The origins of the Himalayan Yeti myth have been revealed at last -- thanks to science.

Big furry animals, larger than humans and capable of walking on two legs, do indeed roam the highest mountains on Earth, according to a study published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a biological sciences journal.

But they're not Yetis. They're bears.

After analyzing the DNA of nine purported Yeti specimens, scientists found that five of the preserved "Yetis" were in fact Tibetan brown bears, two were Himalayan brown bears, and one -- a relic that looked like a fossilized hand -- originally belonged to an Asian black bear.

The ninth specimen -- part of a tooth belonging to a stuffed Yeti in the collection at the Reinhold Messner Mountain Museum, turned out to be from a dog.

"I think the taxidermist went a little crazy on that one," said Charlotte Lindqvist, who led the work. She studies bear genomics at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

 

Lindqvist's results contradict a 2014 study by Bryan Sykes, a human geneticist at Oxford, that claimed to find a genetic match between two supposed Yeti samples and an ancient polar bear that lived tens of thousands of years ago.

At the time, Sykes speculated that the creature known as a Yeti might be an unknown subspecies of brown bear in the high Himalayas that descended from an ancestor of the polar bear.

Lindqvist said her more thorough DNA analysis shows that the Yeti specimens all match with bear subspecies known to live in the area.

"It was a very short stretch of the mitochondrial genome that he used -- too short to say anything conclusive," she said. "All he really had evidence of was that the specimens had something to do with bears."

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