Cross-posted from Skeptisquatch at Teen Skepchick
Melba Ketchum, a veterinarian and founder of DNA Diagnostics, has put out a press release claiming to have evidence that “confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called ‘Bigfoot’ or ‘Sasquatch,’ living in North America.” Ketchum has been making claims along these lines for years, but she has yet to provide any actual data to back them up. In fact, for a while there, she had a Facebook page about the project which, when I checked earlier this year, had mysteriously disappeared.
Kind of like the remains of my species, eh?
Ketchum still has not provided any data, nor any information about what journal is reviewing her paper, nor any information about what lab(s) she worked with (especially among the limited labs sophisticated enough to extract entire genomes from human hair, according to anthropologist Todd Disotell, who specializes in primate evolution, genetics, and mitochondrial DNA–see his enlightening interview on The Bigfoot Show [no relation]). Further, putting out a press release with conclusions before the paper is published is premature to say the least. She has also been tight-lipped about the source of her samples.
Greg Laden, at Science Blogs, contacted DNA Diagnostics to find out where their samples came from but with no luck. I do have a scoop on that end of things, however, from none other than that bastion of scientific credibility Dave Paulides, executive director of the North American Bigfoot Search. According to Paulides, at least some of the samples were hair from a tree where an “obvious” Big Foot sighting occurred. Go ahead. Click on that link. I think you’ll recognize me immediately as well as the common species of tree: The Northern Pareidolia Tree.
Enough speculating about my existence. What I want to know is whether this Melba Ketchum is for real. I mean, Ketchum for the name of a doctor trying to catch Bigfoot? Truth may be stranger than B-movie fiction, granted, but even her associates seem like poes. Robin Lynne, for example, who put out the press release on behalf of Ketchum and DNA Diagnostics, has made several claims about sightings and interaction with a Sasquatch family on her property. She apparently feeds them regularly, from a feeding box and a bucket. According to Lynne (as reported in the Wall Street Journal), “They love the bucket.”
Sure, lady. We love the freaking bucket. I mean, honestly.
But her evaluation of the evidence is beyond reproach. Apparently she went out one day to her feeding box to find it locked, and when she opened it, the food was gone but there was an opossum inside. She naturally concluded that the Bigfoot family had put the creature in there and locked the box as a joke.
Surely, her associate, the esteemed Dr. Ketchum, can answer the questions posited by microbiologist Tyler KokJohn in an email to the Big Foot Lunch Club (where I presume they eat out of buckets):
What method was employed to sequence the DNA? Some have interesting quirks.
Which gene(s) were sequenced, i.e., which genes did you use to decide the Bigfoot relationship to humans?
The statement was made that the mitochondrial genome is identical to human, but the nuclear DNA is distinct. Moreover, a 15,000 year divergence point is estimated. This is quite contrary to expectations. Usually, the genes in a mitochondrion will yield a “faster” evolutionary clock than the nuclear genes (higher mutation rate), that is partially why mitochondrial genes are used for the rapid identification of species. It seems odd that the mitochondria sequence would be invariant. This requires an explanation. . . .
What was the nature of the sample from which DNA was obtained? Had it been exposed to the elements? How do you know it is from Bigfoot? If the sample is degraded, DNA sequences will likely exhibit alterations.
How did they avoid contamination with authentic human DNA?
(He raises many more interesting questions here.)
Ketchum claims that her evidence is strong enough to make Bigfoot a protected indigenous species, which presumably means that she wants it to be illegal to hit delete the next time you’re editing your Bigfoot photos in Photoshop.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t find her evidence of the existence of Bigfoot to be much more convincing than some anonymous person pretending to blog as Sasquatch. YMMV.