'Yeti' Hairs Came From Bear—but Which Kind?

Scientist's theory of an undiscovered polar bear is challenged by new results
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 17, 2015 8:22 AM CDT
'Yeti' Hairs Came From Bear—but Which Kind?
Oxford University genetics professor Bryan Sykes posing with a prepared DNA sample taken from hair from a Himalayan animal.   (AP Photo/ Channel 4)

Research led by an Oxford scientist has suggested there could be something to legends of the yeti, even if it's not quite the creature legends would suggest. Bryan Sykes has argued, based on genetic analysis, that two hair samples collected by yeti enthusiasts in the Himalayas could indeed point to an animal we didn't know existed today, though it would be something like an ancient polar bear rather than something like Bigfoot. But Eliécer E. Gutiérrez of the Smithsonian Institution and Ronald Pine at the University of Kansas are now raining—or perhaps snowing—on Sykes' parade, NBC News reports. They write in a study at ZooKeys that there's not enough information to suggest the hairs were from an unknown species: "We have concluded that there is no reason to believe that the two samples came from anything other than Brown Bears."

Gutiérrez and Pine were bothered by Sykes' use of just a "very short fragment" of the sequenced gene to arrive at his conclusion. LiveScience reports they determined the samples could have come from a brown bear or polar bear; based on the Himalayan location, the brown bear is the likely source, they maintain. Theirs is the second study to question Sykes' findings: The BBC reported in December that another group of researchers found that a brown bear subspecies was the source of the hairs. But Sykes isn't giving up just yet. He calls the new research "entirely statistical," noting "the only way forward is to find a living bear that matches the (genetic material) and study fresh material from it. Which involves getting off your butt, not an activity I usually associate with desk-bound molecular taxonomists," he tells NBC. Read more on where Sykes got his samples. (More yeti stories.)

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