An international group of scientists is heading to Loch Ness in the hope that DNA will solve one of the most famous mysteries in the world.
The team from New Zealand, USA, Denmark, UK, Australia and France will sample DNA from the famous Scottish loch’s deep waters to identify tiny remnants left behind by any form of life. The information will then be collated to compile a detailed list of living creatures, which will then be compared with other lochs.
Professor Neil Gemmell from the University of Otago in New Zealand, said: “Whenever a creature moves through its environment, it leaves behind tiny fragments of DNA from skin, scales, feathers, fur and waste. This DNA can be captured, sequenced and then used to identify that creature by comparing the sequence obtained to large databases of known genetic sequences from 100,000s of different organisms. If an exact match can’t be found we can generally figure out where on the tree of life that sequence fits.”
The use of DNA sampling is already in widespread use for monitoring sharks, whales, fish and other animals. US Geological Survey researchers are using DNA to detect the presence of endangered manatees in Florida waters. DNA testing can also track travel corridors as the mammals move about seasonally.
Gemmell’s team will focus on searching for new species of bacteria and will also study native species in Loch Ness, which is the largest body of freshwater in the UK. Professor Gemmell admits he would be surprised to find DNA similar to that of a prehistoric plesiosaur but is keeping an open mind about Jurassic life being located in the loch.
“Large fish like catfish and sturgeons have been suggested as possible explanations for the monster myth, and we can very much test that idea and others. 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.”