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New search for the Loch Ness monster now on

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On 2 May 1933, a local newspaper in Inverness reported that an enormous dinosaur-like creature had been spotted in one of Scotland’s largest freshwater lakes. This was the start of the legend of the Loch Ness monster. In the years since, the world has seen grainy, blurry footage of something that may or may not be a creature living in the water, with common opinion being that the Loch Ness monster is nothing more than an urban legend.

The Loch Ness monster new searchScientists are now looking to prove – or disprove – the existence of the Loch Ness monster through the use of DNA. A group of scientists from around the world is planning to use environmental DNA to determine what species live in the lake.

Whenever an animal moves through its environment, it drops tiny fragments of DNA: Whether that’s skin, scales, feathers, fur, faeces or urine. Scientists can then capture and sequence the DNA. The researchers will take 300 samples of water from different points around the lake and at different depths, filtering the organic material and extracting the DNA. The DNA will be sequenced using the technology originally created for the human genome project.

When the researchers compare the sequences with giant databases of known genetic sequences from hundreds of thousands of organisms around the world, they’ll be able to identify the organisms in the lake. Scientists will extract DNA from the loch over two weeks, then send samples to labs in Australia, Denmark, France and New Zealand for analysis.

In an interview, team leader Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago in New Zealand said he doesn’t believe in the idea of a monster, but said that he’s open to the idea that there are things yet to be discovered and not fully understood. “Maybe there’s a biological explanation for some of the stories,” he said.

Despite the lack of empirical evidence, numerous sightings of the Loch Ness monster continue to be reported to authorities in Scotland each year. Last year alone saw eight “sightings”. In 1996, 17 people reported seeing the monster. Over the years, some of the sightings have been proved as hoaxes, but most are reported by people that truly believe they have seen Nessie.

Over the years, scientists have tried to search for proof of the world-famous mythical creature. In 2003, the BBC funded an extensive search of the loch using 600 sonar beams and satellite tracking, but this found nothing. A few years ago, a high-tech marine drone embarked on the search, finding only a replica monster which was used in the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Homes.

“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. There’s absolutely no doubt that we will find new stuff, and that’s very exciting. While the prospect of looking for evidence of the Loch Ness monster is the hook to this project, there is an extraordinary amount of new knowledge that we will gain from the work about organisms that inhabit Loch Ness.”

Even if Nessie’s genetic fingerprint doesn’t come up, this research will capture imaginations around the world, and may even grow interest in science among children. Gemmel’s own two children, aged 7 and 10, told him it’s the coolest thing he’s ever done.

Image credit: Copyright: jeffbanke / 123RF Stock Photo

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