Findings of Loch Ness study to be revealed

University of Otago researcher Professor Neil Gemmell, right, with Adrian Shine of the Loch Ness...
University of Otago researcher Professor Neil Gemmell, right, with Adrian Shine of the Loch Ness Project. Photo: Supplied

Is it a bird, is it a plane, or is it the Loch Ness monster?

University of Otago scientists today made a tantalising announcement, that next week, near the Scottish loch, they will reveal the findings of an international study into Nessie's existence or otherwise.

When University of Otago geneticist Prof Neil Gemmell last year flew from New Zealand to Scotland to investigate the waters of Loch Ness, speculation quickly spread that evidence of the fabled Loch Ness Monster would be found.

By examining environmental DNA in the waters, Prof Gemmell, of the Otago anatomy department, aimed to catalogue all current life in the loch.

"There have been over a thousand reported sightings of something in Loch Ness which have driven this notion of a monster being in the water,'' he said.

There were about four main explanations for the more than a thousand sightings of a possible creature in the loch.

"Our research essentially discounts most of those theories, however one theory remains plausible,'' Prof Gemmell says.

250 water samples were taken from the length, breadth and depth of Loch Ness.

The DNA from those samples was extracted and sequenced, resulting in about 500 million sequences that had now been analysed against existing databases.

To learn the study findings, media have been invited to a press conference at Drumnadrochit, on the shores of Loch Ness, on Thursday, September 5.

Prof Gemmell will speak there, at the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, at 10am. In order to manage the "already significant media interest in this announcement'', media attending were asked to RSVP their interest to the university.

A University of Otago spokesman said that even if there was no large creature cruising its depths, "the loch itself is a monster''.

"Loch Ness is the UK's largest freshwater body --large enough to hold all the water from every lake, river and reservoir in England and Wales combined.''

Prof Gemmell said that a global team of scientists had used cutting edge DNA sampling techniques to probe the loch's murky waters.

And technology pioneered for the Human Genome Project would reveal what species lived in those dark, mysterious depths.

Ever since the first reported sightings in the Dark Ages, in the 6th Century, there had been various theories: some said it was a prehistoric relic, or a giant sturgeon, and others suggest a stick or a boat wake.

The Super Natural History team had used environmental DNA sampling of the loch waters to identify the tiny DNA samples left behind by life in the loch.

The world had waited more than a thousand years for an answer, and the results would be revealed next week.

The microbes, which represented "the most enormous diversity of living things in the Loch, and elsewhere'' had taken the most time to analyse, Prof Gemmell has said.

The DNA sequencing and analysis had been done in labs in Australia, Denmark and France and at the University of Otago.

After taking water samples last year, they used eDNA (environmental DNA) sampling of the water to identify remnants left behind by life in the loch, using skin, scales, feathers, fur and waste.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz 

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