No yetis yet – UK research

Through DNA analysis of 36 different hair samples, Oxford researchers have found no proof of the existence of an anomalous primate like the yeti or bigfoot.

Legends of the existence of a yeti, sasquatch or almasty have long been avoided by the wider modern scientific community, which has left advocates of these creatures feeling “rejected by science”. So in 2012 a research team from Oxford University led by geneticist Professor Brian Sykes put out a call for samples of hair from museums and private collectors to be tested for proof of the existence of one of these  creatures.

Fifty seven samples were received from all over the world, with half from the USA and the rest from Russia and South Asia. Non-hair fibres such as grass and glass were eliminated from the samples, then 36 were chosen for genetic testing. DNA analysis of the samples was then compared to the GenBank database to look for matches with known animal species. The results were published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Some of the samples failed to have DNA extracted, however 30 of the samples were genetically matched to known species ranging from bears, sheep,dogs raccoons,porcupines – and in one sample from Texas a human.

Interestingly two samples from the Himalayas- one from India and the other from Bhutan came back with a 100% match to a polar bear which existed 40,000 years ago, and not to any other known living bear. Researchers suspect the golden-brown hair from India and red-brown hair from Bhutan are likely an unidentified bear species or a colour variant of polar bears or polar bear hybrids.

Either way, there is no genetic evidence of a yeti yet, however the scientists pointed out that while there study cannot prove that these creatures exist, it can neither disprove it.Either way we don’t have any evidence of the existence of yetis yet, but the researchers have created techniques by which we can test for them in the future.

The research into yetis – or lack thereof – has been covered by New Zealand media. Examples include:

TVNZ News: Bigfoot myth challenged by DNA tests
Yahoo NZ news: Yeti, Big Foot debunked: DNA reveals the bear facts Science deals a blow to Bigfoot fans
New Zealand Herald: Abominable news for yeti believers: Samples came from bears

Written by inaugural SMC Science Journalism Fellow Pippa Grierson.