For many of us who write about and research unsolved mysteries, Nessie was one of the ‘gateway’ mysteries that instilled a lifelong love of the unexplained and elusive. The thought of a giant prehistoric creature prowling the waters of the Scottish Highlands and occasionally posing for photographs is irresistible for those of us who want to believe that there are still undiscovered relics of a lost time to be found. Despite innumerable sightings, hundreds of photographs of odd-looking objects or creatures, and the deep troves of folklore and conspiracy theories that surround Nessie, the infamous creature remains the stuff of legend.
While several scientific studies have been conducted to comb Loch Ness using sonar and underwater cameras, these have been mostly fruitless. To try and end the Nessie debate once and for all, geneticist Neil Gemmell of New Zealand’s University of Otago has devised a plan to hunt for Nessie’s DNA. Speaking to the Daily Mail, Gemmell says his plan involves searching for environmental Nessie DNA in water samples of the loch:
We use environmental DNA to monitor marine biodiversity. From a few litres of water we can detect thousands of species. 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. If there was anything unusual in the loch these DNA tools would be likely to pick up that evidence.
Speaking to the Otago Daily Times, Gemmell said his plan began almost in jest:
I, myself, am a skeptic. But I’m not averse to the idea of being proved wrong. It started out as an idea that I voiced on Twitter with some other colleagues, and it’s been picked up and it seems to have grown some legitimate legs.
Will this be the test that once and for all confirms or denies the existence of the legendary monster? Gemmell believes that even if the results turn up nothing, Nessie hunters will continue to search for the monster based on a belief that the creature is paranormal and therefore beyond the scope of our science. That’s not necessarily a new idea and has been suggested for years. For those of us who want to believe, there’s always another explanation.