If you were planning a trip to the Himalayas to hunt for the unknown bear species that was recently believed to be the source of Yeti sightings, call your travel agent for a refund. It looks like those samples may have been identified and it’s not good for your reality show.
Remember the big controversial DNA study last year of hair samples thought to be from yetis, bigfoots and other crytids? That study, lead by Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes, identified all the samples but two that came from the Himalayas. Further study matched the DNA of those samples with a 40,000-year-old polar bear fossil (Palaeolithic polar bear, Ursus maritimus). From that, they concluded a previously unknown hybrid bear species inhabits the area and is probably the real Yeti.
That conclusion was soon challenged by Ceiridwen Edwards and Ross Barnett, whose analysis determined that the DNA matched a present day polar bear and the mis-identification could have been the result of a deterioration of the sample.
Confused yet? Maybe I should say “confused Yeti” because the story doesn’t end there. According to a new report in the journal Zookeys, Eliécer E. Gutiérrez, a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, and Ronald H. Pine, from the Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas, analyzed the samples AGAIN and they concluded that genetic variations of brown bears makes it impossible to determine whether the original are-they-or-are-they-not yeti hairs are from a brown bear or a polar bear. Based on that, they decided that they’re probably from a Himalayan brown bear since that’s where the samples came from – a conclusion that sounds logical but, based on past history of said samples, will probably be contested and analyzed yet again.
While studying the gene sequences of the six current bear species, Gutiérrez and Pine found one sequence from an Asian black bear from Japan that was very different than that of mainland Asian black bears, enough to warrant further study.
Asian black bear, Himalayan brown bear, Palaeolithic polar bear … blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yeti. The real news is that the samples are not from a Yeti.
The search continues.