A couple of years ago, a DNA analysis of an ostensible sample of Yeti hair indicated that it may have belonged to a previously undiscovered ancestor of modern bears. A new genetic analysis now refutes this claim.
Back in 2013, Oxford University professor Bryan Sykes studied two different hair samples taken from a pair of Himalayan animals, both identified by the local population as belonging to Yetis. His analysis suggested that the samples did not belong to your average Himalayan bear, but to some unknown ancestor that roamed the area 40,000 years ago. Sykes conjectured that the samples belonged to a previously undiscovered ancient hybrid of polar bears and brown bears, or some kind of "anomalous" bear not previously classified.
Recently, a different research team concluded that the samples came from a polar bear — a claim contested by Sykes and his colleagues.
But a new mitochondrial analysis by Eliécer E. Gutiérrez – of the National Museum of Natural History – and Ronald H. Pine – of the Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas – suggests that the hair samples didn't come from an unknown type of bear, or an unknown primate for that matter. According to the new analysis, the relevant genetic variation in bears makes it impossible to know with any kind of certainty whether the samples belonged to either brown bears or polar bears; because of considerable genetic overlap, the samples could have come from either one. And because brown bears appear in the Himalayas, the researchers say it's more likely than not that the samples came from ordinary Himalayan brown bears.
"Our results demonstrate that the very short fragment of the 12S rRNA gene sequenced by Sykes et al. is not sufficiently informative to support the hypotheses provided by these authors with respect to the taxonomic identity of the individuals from which these sequences were obtained," note the authors in their study. "We have concluded that there is no reason to believe that the two samples came from anything other than Brown Bears."
Not surprisingly, none of these scientists are claiming that the samples belong to an actual Yeti.
The new research now appears in the journal ZooKeys.
Top image: Wanida W./CC