Scientist hunts for 'monster DNA' in Loch Ness

Professor Neil Gemmell takes samples on his boat as he conducts research into the DNA present in the waters of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. Tales and reported sightings of a giant creature in the waters have been around for over 1,500 years.
Professor Neil Gemmell takes samples on his boat as he conducts research into the DNA present in the waters of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. Tales and reported sightings of a giant creature in the waters have been around for over 1,500 years.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

INVERNESS (United Kingdom) • Tales of a giant creature lurking beneath the murky waves of Loch Ness have been around for more than 1,500 years - and one academic hopes the marvels of modern science can finally unravel the mystery.

Professor Neil Gemmell has travelled from the University of Otago in New Zealand to collect water samples in the Scottish lake, in the hope of finding out more about the creatures that inhabit its depths.

"Over 1,000 people claim that they have seen a monster. Maybe there is something extraordinary out there," he told AFP, as he dropped a five-litre probe into the loch. Prof Gemmell said he would be keeping an eye out for "monster DNA", but the project was more aimed at testing environmental DNA techniques to understand the natural world.

Local resident Adrian Shine said Prof Gemmell's findings could contribute to his own long-running research programme - The Loch Ness Project. The venture was itself inspired by the efforts of earlier international explorers like American Dan Scott Taylor who patrolled the loch in his Beatles-inspired Yellow Submarine in the late 1960s.

"I'm sure that some species will be found which have probably not been described. They're more likely than anything else to be bacteria," Mr Shine told AFP. "If you did find something else - and I do emphasise the 'if' - then you would actually get quite a good handle on what sort of creature, what class of animal, it is."

Theories abound about the true nature of the Loch Ness Monster - from a malevolent, shape-shifting "water horse", to an aquatic survivor of the dinosaur age, right down to logs, fish, wading birds or simply waves which have been blown out of all proportion.

UNRAVELLING THE MYSTERY

Over 1,000 people claim that they have seen a monster. Maybe there is something extraordinary out there.

PROFESSOR NEIL GEMMELL

"Anything that you see on the loch that you don't understand can be your Loch Ness Monster on that day," Mr Shine said.

The earliest chronicles of a creature are attributed to Saint Columba, who brought Christianity to Scotland in the sixth century.

The last reported sighting was on March 26 this year by a US couple standing on the ramparts of the majestic ruin of Urquhart Castle. "They described a large shadow moving under the water which they estimated to be around 30 feet in length," said Mr Dave Bell, skipper of the Nessie Hunter tourist boat. "Last year we had a record number of sightings: 11 in total."

Mr Bell has never seen anything himself in his many years on the loch, but that does not shake his belief that there is something down there. "I find it hard to believe that over 1,000 people can be wrong," he said.

Teacher Andrea Ferguson, 56, who is from Saint Louis, Missouri, took a trip on Nessie Hunter to try to catch sight of the monster which has fascinated her since childhood. "So many sightings have been made that there may be a little truth to the Loch Ness Monster," she told AFP.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2018, with the headline 'Scientist hunts for 'monster DNA' in Loch Ness'. Print Edition | Subscribe