An international team of scientists announces its plan to investigate microorganisms and all traces of life forms thriving in United Kingdom's largest freshwater body: the Loch Ness.
The exploration, scheduled in June, is creating much excitement in the hopes of finally answering one of the world's greatest mysteries — the legend of the Loch Ness monster or Nessie.
The stories about Nessie have been told since the Dark Ages. The monster's existence is subjected to numerous hoaxes and thousands of false sightings at present. To date, there remains no proof that Nessie truly existed or whether it continues to live.
The team, comprised of scientists from the U.K., Denmark, the United States, Australia, and France will be using a scientific method called environmental DNA or eDNA. The process will involve collecting water samples that contain the DNA remnants left behind by creatures that inhabited or currently living in the Loch Ness.
Possible eDNA Traces Of The Loch Ness Monster
Nessie has always been described to be a long-necked creature with one or two humps akin to the plesiosaurs that lived during the prehistoric times. Previous scientific hypothesis surmised that Nessie could actually belong to large catfish or sturgeon species. Now, the group can test that hypothesis through eDNA sequencing.
"Whenever a creature moves through its environment, it leaves behind tiny fragments of DNA from the skin, scales, feathers, fur, feces, and urine," said Neil Gemmel, the team's lead scientist from the University of Otago in New Zealand.
"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 100,000's 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."
Gemmel added that if his team, indeed, finds any evidence of DNA sequences similar to remnants that might come from a large extinct marine reptile, he will be surprised himself.
Much More Than The Hunt For Loch Ness Monster
Gemmel explained that his team's effort actually goes beyond a monster hunt even with the prospect of looking for evidence of Nessie's existence serving as the hook for the project. Their ultimate mission is to acquire new insights about the organisms that inhabit the Loch Ness.
Gemmel is hopeful that their exploration will document both new and native species of life living in the water. He is also optimistic about gaining a better understanding of new invasive species such as the Pacific pink salmon.
Their findings will be documented accordingly on the website called The Super Natural History.
Loch Ness Monster Mystery
The legend goes that Irish Saint Columba had an encounter with Nessie some 1,500 years ago or during 565 A.D. The saint supposedly talked to the monster and saved one of his followers from its attack.
Nothing was ever recorded again about the Loch Ness monster until 1520, 300 years after the first sighting. All accounts, however, were inconsistent.
There are an estimated 1,000 supposed sightings of the legendary monster but everything turned out to be false. The most controversial would be what was dubbed as "The Surgeon's Photo."
In 1934, surgeon Robert Wilson claimed to finally snap a photo of the Loch Ness monster. The photo, characterized by its grainy quality, had become the most iconic photograph of Nessie swimming in the expansive freshwater in the Scottish Highlands. The image had been used in all coverage and reports about Nessie.
In 1994, however, Christian Spurling confessed on his deathbed that the photo was faked by his stepfather Marmaduke Weatherall. They attributed the photo to Wilson because people would likely believe a surgeon.
Weatherall was also responsible for a previous hoax where he claimed to have found the footprints of the Loch Ness monster. He used a hippo foot umbrella prop to support this claim.