One year ago, scientists stated that hair samples supposedly from the Yeti contained RNA that was most similar to a now-extinct breed of polar bear. Now another research team claims that it is just as likely to be a common species of brown bear, writes Alan Boyle for NBC News.
Rival research teams with different findings
The original study was led by Bryan Sykes of Oxford University, and his team are sticking to their theory of the origins of the Yeti. However Eliecer Gutierrez of the Smithsonian Institution and Ronald Pine, an associate of the University of Kansas’ Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, say that based on the amount of genetic overlap in the RNA results it is impossible to rule out the Himalayan brown bear.
The latest analysis from Gutierrez and Pine was published by the open-access journal ZooKeys on Monday.
The previous team gathered hair samples collected over many years by yeti-hunters and fringe researchers known as cryptozoologists, before analyzing the mitochondrial RNA extracted from the samples. Their results were given a lot of attention when they were released in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Yeti genetically related to ancient polar bear?
The majority of the hairs were from common species such as cows, canines and humans, but two samples matched with a 40,000-year-old polar bear fossil found in Norway. Sykes saw this as enough evidence for a Himalayan expedition in search of such a species. Other researchers have claimed that his results may have been affected by contamination.
Sykes stands by his previous findings even in the face of opposition from other researchers.
“The explanation by Gutierrez and Pine might be right, or it might not be,” Sykes wrote. “The only way forward, as I have repeatedly said, is to find a living bear that matches the 12S RNA and study fresh material from it. Which involves getting off your butt, not an activity I usually associate with desk-bound molecular taxonomists.”
Sykes has written a book on the subject, “The Nature of the Beast,” which will be published in April. He said that he was “not in a position to comment” on a potential expedition to the Himalayas in search of the yeti.