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Sequencing Bigfoot's DNA?

A scientist in East Texas claims that her organization possesses DNA evidence that a Bigfoot species not only exists, but also is a close relative of our own species. However, at least a few people have their doubts.

The cryptic “Bigfoot” is a creature that’s usually designated to fantasy; the plaster molds of giant feet and grainy home videos just don’t cut it when trying to prove to the science community that a large, hairy forest-dwelling hominid exists.

But a genetics lab in Nacogdoches, Texas, claims to have DNA evidence that not only proves that a Bigfoot species is real, but also a hybrid between modern humans and another primate species that has “non-human, non-archaic hominid, non-ape sequences,” a phrase that the lab DNA Diagnostics, Inc., used in a press release posted on its website last week.

“They’re a type of human, but not. They are what they are. I can’t change the data to make them different,” said Melba Ketchum, the director of DNA Diagnostics, Inc. and leader of the gene sequencing study. “They have human DNA in them, therefore they’re related to us.”

They’re a type of human, but not. They are what they are. I can’t change the data to make them different. They have human DNA in them, therefore they’re related to us.

— Melba Ketchum, director of DNA Diagnostics, Inc. and leader of the Bigfoot gene sequencing study

According to Ketchum, the lab has sequenced three complete bigfoot genomes by extracting DNA from hair samples of three individuals. Twenty mitochondrial genomes, a small subset of DNA inherited by offspring exclusively from the mother, have also been sequenced and found to be completely human. This indicates that the hybrid crossings that created the Bigfoot species happened between a human female and male unknown primate, said Ketchum, who estimates the date of the cross to be around 15,000 years ago.

“I didn’t seek out to do this. It found me,” says Ketchum, saying that the research was sparked in 2008 when Destination Truth, a paranormal reality television show on the SyFy TV network, asked her to sequence hairs that they claimed came from a Yeti.

Despite the press release and bizarre claims, the details of the five-year research study have not been released to the public because they are under peer-review for a scientific journal, said Ketchum. Out of concern that it might jeopardize the peer-review process, she declined to give the name of the journal. Ketchum did reveal that major funding for the research came from multi-millionaires and prominent Bigfoot believers Wally Hersom and Adrain Erickson.

Brad McAndrews (name is a pseudonym), a scientist who works in the field of organ transplant genetics and compatibility, says he has some serious issues with Ketchum’s research. But it’s not about the Bigfoot.

“When I was 10 years old, I encountered one of these animals in the middle of the day. Daylight, 10 feet from me, standing in front of me for almost half a minute,” said McAndrews. “It wasn’t traumatizing, but it had a biological effect on my brain so I can remember the smallest details from my experience.”

McAndrews is a member of the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy, a nonprofit of about 40 members dedicated to finding scientific evidence of Bigfoot, or “wood ape,” as the organization likes to call it. He believes that the creature is real and realizes how strange his childhood encounter with Bigfoot must sound.

“I know this probably sounds crazy to you, but it’s totally legit, totally real,” said McAndrews, who, for professional reasons, uses the “Brad McAndrews” alias for his work with the organization.

The issue that McAndrews has with Ketchum’s research claims is in the science. He cites releasing the press release without the data, technology and training, and basic biological facts, as the three main reasons why Ketchum’s research, as it currently stands, should not be trusted.

“She would have to have access to millions of dollars and access to the world’s best scientists in terms of sequencing,” said McAndrews, referencing the cost of sequencing machines and the difficulty of developing preparatory protocols for novel DNA samples. Ketchum says that the Bigfoot sequencing was a collaborative effort including “double digits” of other scientists, some international. However, no exact identification information was provided.

Although DNA Diagnostics, Inc. analyzes DNA on a daily basis, the forensics work, paternity testing and animal trait identification that the company offers are “cookie cutter” tests that have well established protocols, says McAndrews.

Even if Ketchum did successfully sequence a sample, McAndrews says that the presence of human DNA in the genome looks more like contamination than evidence of hybridization. And even if a hybridization did occur, the characterization of the unknown primate DNA as “non-human and non-ape” makes it extremely unlikely that any viable, let alone fertile, offspring would result, said McAndrews.

“If I have sex with a Tyrannosaurus, will we get a Brad-osauras Rex? No, of course not. That’s ridiculous. But I say that because it is ridiculous,” said McAndrews.

Ketchum says that she has heard the contamination claim before and that the samples underwent the same sort of protocol that forensic sequences undergo to remove any foreign DNA.

Another point against Ketchum’s claim is DNA Diagnostic, Inc.’s service record. The company is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau, which gave the company a failing grade because of multiple customer complaints. The most frequent complaint that appeared on the bureau’s site was failure to deliver service.

If Ketchum wants the scientific world to believe her claim, she must offer tangible data, said Deborah Bolnick, a University of Texas at Austin anthropology professor who conducts DNA anthropological studies as part of her research.

“Right now, there are only unsubstantiated claims,” said Bolnick in an email. “Until the research is published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and the data are made publicly available, there is nothing to discuss or evaluate.”

McAndrews thinks it will take a voucher specimen (a field biology term for a specimen of proof) to show that Bigfoot exists. Collecting such a specimen is one of the goals of the McAndrews and other members of the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy, who have spent weeks in southern forests looking for the creature. The organization hopes that tangible evidence of the creature could help protect its habitat, according to a statement on its webpage.

Ketchum also calls for the protection of Bigfoots and the forests in which the species is said to live because she believes their supposed human origins make them a type of indigenous people.

Despite McAndrews and Ketchum both agreeing on possibly the most unbelievable portion of the claim — the existence of a Bigfoot species — the lack of scientific evidence makes Ketchum’s claim a complete myth to McAndrews.

“If [Ketchum] is genuine in her motivation and genuine with what she’s saying, she’s walking a very fine line here, if she actually has proof of this” says McAndrews. “ But I’d put my money on it, that she does not.”

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