Hunt for Nessie boosts uni profile

A University of Otago researcher's quest to find traces of the Loch Ness monster has captured the imaginations of people around the world, and the institution is delighted at the way the work is raising its profile.

Prof Neil Gemmell is in Scotland testing environmental DNA (eDNA) in the water of the famous lake, in the hope of detecting traces of the gigantic underwater creature, which has been the subject of sightings for more than 1500 years.

International media outlets including Yahoo!, Time, National Geographic, The New York Post, ABC News, CBS News, BBC News, and The Huffington Post have featured the story.

Prof Gemmell, of the anatomy department, is conducting his tests with the support of Scottish researchers from the Loch Ness Project.

The use of eDNA sampling is already well established as a tool for monitoring sharks, whales, fish and other animals.

At a university council meeting yesterday, Vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne commended the work of the university communications department, which had ``helped him to deal with the media onslaught''.

Speaking to ITV's Good Morning Britain, Prof Gemmell said it was possible a ``big Jurassic reptile'' once dwelt in the lake, or a particular species of giant catfish, released during the Victorian era.

``Its face would probably be the size of a car bonnet,'' he said.

He expected that the sampling of the water would take two weeks in total.

Prof Gemmell was unconcerned about dashing people's hopes that there was a monster in the lake if the eDNA of a giant underwater creature did not show up, saying it was impossible to prove a negative - and the legend would doubtless continue.

Once the sampling is complete, DNA will be extracted in labs in Europe before gene sequences are analysed in Europe, Australia and at Otago.

Findings are expected to be released in January 2019.

elena.mcphee@odt.co.nz

 

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