The picturesque highlands of Scotland are dotted with freshwater lochs (or lakes) -- 31,000 lochs to be precise!
But none is as famous as Loch Ness. The fact that it is the second deepest lake at 230 meters is not as important as what some people believe lurk in its waters. Yes, we are talking about Nessie - the mythical Loch Ness monster!
But now scientists have decided to put the debate to rest. An international research team is planning to use environmental DNA (also referred to as eDNA) to determine all creatures that live in its waters. The team started their research in April 2018 and hope to publish the results by January 2019.
The Myth of the Loch Ness
Nessie has had the general public captivated as early as the 7th century! The earliest account of the monster was by a Scottish missionary.
A photograph of the Loch Ness Monster in 1934 (which was admitted as a hoax) depicts a creature with a long neck and strong resemblance to a dinosaur. This has lead to speculation that Nessie is the sole survivor of plesiosaurs, a type of dinosaur.
Other popular theories include that Nessie is simply a trick of the eye, or is more closely related to whales instead of dinosaurs. Much of the evidence of the monster is anecdotal, such as individuals reporting sightings of it. To date, 1,000 individuals have claimed to have spotted the elusive monster. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) even funded an effort which used 600 sonar beams to locate the beast, but was unsuccessful.
Too Good To Be True?
The current search for Nessie began as an effort to catalog the many organisms that inhabit the Loch Ness. Aside from Nessie, the Loch Ness is also mysterious as it contains more freshwater than all the lakes in England and Wales combined!
Because all creatures leave traces of their DNA behind, it is possible that the Loch Ness monster may have as well. Ducks, for example, leave behind skin cells. This is eDNA – DNA samples of an organism that is inadvertently mixed with water or dirt.
After the team extracts eDNA samples from the lake, the samples will be isolated and analyzed against a genetic database. Genetic databases are growing, some even doubling every year and more in the US. eDNA is essential as it allows researchers to quickly obtain a “genetic snapshot” of an ecosystem. Instead of researchers catching fishes and other organisms to obtain a “genetic snapshot” of the Loch Ness, eDNA allows them to simply take a sample of the water. eDNA has been used in other parts of the world, such as Qatar, to find out more about whale sharks.
eDNA will also allow researchers to track growths of invasive species, such as shrimp and salmon and also discover new species as well. Although the team’s research leader is skeptical of the existence of a monster, he states that the findings may provide something different – a biological explanation to the countless sightings of the monster.
What about you - Do you believe in the myth?
And here's a video about the lake and it's mythical resident!
Sources: Guardian, History, NationalGeographic, Smithsonian