Scientist to Search for Unknown DNA in Loch Ness

Loch Ness. (Image credit: en.wikipedia.org)

Loch Ness. (Image credit: en.wikipedia.org)

New Zealand scientist and professor Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago recently announced a plan to use a type of forensics test to look for DNA in Loch Ness that doesn't match any known animal species.

"We use environmental DNA to monitor marine biodiversity. From a few litres of water we can detect thousands of species," said Gemmell.

Professor Neil Gemmell researches ecology, population, conservation and evolutionary biology with recent technological spin-offs from the various genome projects. (Image credit: University of Otago)

Professor Neil Gemmell researches ecology, population, conservation and evolutionary biology with recent technological spin-offs from the various genome projects. (Image credit: University of Otago)

Gemmell's study involves gathering water samples from multiple locations and at different depths of the loch to scan for bits of animal DNA, and work to identify it.  He plans on using large sequence databases that categorize the majority of known living things to compare to the DNA found in Loch Ness.  This could help to distinguish and identify any potentially unknown genetic material.

"All large organisms lose cells as they move through their environment. New genomic technology is sensitive enough to pick this up and we can use comparisons to databases that span the majority of known living things," he explained.  "If there was anything unusual in the loch these DNA tools would be likely to pick up that evidence."

Stories of a beast that dwells in Loch Ness have been rampant since 1933, when a couple claimed they spotted an "enormous animal" in the loch.  That year also saw the introduction of the famous 'surgeon's photo,' which later was found to be a hoax.  Speculative explanations for the so-called monster range from large lake sturgeons, to giant eels, to a surviving population of plesiosaurs.

Professor Gemmell remains skeptical about finding anything unusual in Loch Ness, but admits that even if he didn't it wouldn't necessarily disprove the existence of an undiscovered animal; nor would the discovery of strange DNA prove the existence of a monster.  But it is a starting point, and one that will hopefully provide even more questions to stimulate inquisitive minds for years to come.

“I’m a skeptic. My guess is that there isn’t anything really different about Loch Ness,” he said. “But it’s been an interesting conversation starter.”

Tobias WaylandComment