Sequencing complete: Scientific Search for Loch Ness eDNA enters final round

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Dunedin (New Zealand) – Since last summer, a team of scientists is trying to genetically test theories surrounding a still unknown large creature lurking in Scotland’s most famous Lake Loch Ness. Using so-called eDNA, the researchers want to search for clear genetic traces of an organism that would explain – or refute – countless sightings of the legendary “Loch Ness monster” Nessie. The German news-blog on frontier sciences “Grenzwissenschaft-Aktuell.de” (GreWi) asked the head of the project, Prof. Neil Gemmell from the University of Otago in New Zealand, about the projects current state.

Using water samples from Scotland’s second largest freshwater lake and comparative control samples from three other Scottish lochs (Loch Garry, Oich and Morar), the biologists hope to search for genetic traces of the alleged monster “Nessie” in Loch Ness using so-called environmental DNA (environmental DNA).

eDNA represents a comparatively new method of DNA analysis that can extract even the smallest traces of DNA from environmental samples such as water or soils. The method became known through the DNA-evidence of the existence of the ancient so-called Denisova humans from the analysis of deposits in a cave in which no other physical evidence or traces were found for the former presence of the long unknown early human species.

“The method of eDNA is so effective because life itself is dirty,” Gemmell explained. “Whatever creature moves through and lives in an environment, it leaves behind tiny fragments of its DNA in the form of skin, scales, feathers, hair, faeces and urine. It is this DNA that we are now able to extract and sequence in order to identify these creatures by comparing the sequences determined with the databases of known genetic sequences of more than 100,000 different organisms”.

Asked about the current status of the geneticists search for Nessie by GreWi-editor Andreas Muller Professor Gemmell explained:

„Currently we are analysing the data we obtained from our Loch Ness sampling trip back in June.

Since then DNA from ~250 individual samples were extracted at the University of Hull.

Prof. Neil Gemmell
Copyright/Quelle: gemmell-lab.otago.ac.nz

From there the DNAs went to the laboratory of Professor Pierre Taberlet at the Université Grenoble Alpes, where we used PCR metabarcodes to amplify the eukaryotic and bacterial DNA sequences found in our samples. We also used a set of metabarcodes that focus on vertebrate life, given that most monster myths focus on some large vertebrate-like creature

These enriched DNA-sequences were then sent to Fasteris (a Swiss DNA sequencing service) in Geneva, where they were sequenced using Illumina sequencing technologies. We now have ~500 million individual DNA sequences that we are exploring to understand what types of species were present in Loch Ness when we sampled in June 2018

It takes some time to explore the sequences robustly and we have ~5 labs doing this independently. I expect we will have an answer as to what we have found by early 2019.“

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