Scientist Moves Forward with Search for Unknown DNA in Loch Ness

 Loch Ness in Scotland.

Loch Ness in Scotland.

In April of 2017 the Singular Fortean Society reported on Neil Gemmell, a New Zealand scientist and professor at the University of Otago who had announced his plan to use a type of forensics test to look for DNA in Loch Ness that doesn't match any known animal species.

Gemmell's plans have moved forward, and next month he will lead a team of researchers to the UK's largest freshwater body to collect samples.  The samples will then be sent to labs in Australia, Denmark, France, and New Zealand for analysis.

  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 then working to identify it.  He'll use 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.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that we will find new stuff, and that’s very exciting,” Gemmell said. “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.”

Stories of a beast that dwells in Loch Ness have remained popular 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 going into this thinking it’s unlikely there is a monster, but I want to test that hypothesis," he said. "What we’ll get is a really nice survey of the biodiversity of Loch Ness.”

The team is expected to present their findings in January.

Tobias WaylandComment