We found him!-er rather, someone seems to believe we've found him. Last week, Dr. Melba toast Ketchum made a claim that her and her team of geneticists have sequenced the genome of a creature which appears from their results to be a cousin of ours, a hybrid in fact.
Dr. Ketchum has made the claim after an apparent five year stint of examining the DNA contained in hair samples purported to be from a living beast. Cryptozoologists are dancing in the street at the possibility of scientific evidence for the existence of everyone's favourite apeman.
Before you rush out and buy the t-shirt, a few important, well, very basic questions need to be answered first. For starters, Dr. Ketchum's research is awaiting peer-review, the process through which her colleagues will evaluate the methods used, ensuring that proper scientific protocols were followed. After that will come the important test, attempting to replicate her results -- the sniff test. I'd imagine Dr. Ketchum's coveted DNA sample will be shared with other unaffiliated labs who will run the same and or similar tests to see if they get the same result.
Bigfoot has long played the archetype holy-grail of cryptozoology, a made up term meaning the search for magical or otherwise unlikely to exist animals. It's a fun, if redundant, pseudo-science for people who like science but LOVE the X-Files -- redundant because we have a field for studying animals on this earth, zoology - pseudo because it's science backwards with the conclusion having been drawn first and a low standard for evidence to support it, ie. "I KNOW what I saw, man..."
It's not impossible that there is a Bigfoot creature out there somewhere, it's just that our understanding of the natural world has made it, well, not so plausible. Dr. Ketchum is asserting that the genome her team sequenced reveals a human-ape hybrid that's been around for at least 15,000 years. There's a couple problems with this...
One is trying to find where exactly in the human evolution he'll fit. For example Neanderthals were one of our closest cousins, so close that cross-mating did occur often enough that when they sequenced the genes of Ozzy --just coz, why the hell not --they actually found a trace of Neanderthal in his DNA.
This actually happened.
But Neanderthal Man ultimately went the way of the dodo. Even being so close a cousin, Neanderthal was small in stature, like most of our ape cousins, and there is no evidence in evolutionary biology of an upright-walking, flat-footed primate ancestor larger than us -- apart from maybe, by a stretch, the giant sloth.
So if such a fellow suddenly appeared, he would be the first example of what creationists call a "monkey giving birth to a human" and a complete interruption in the continuity of our family tree:
It's not actually linear, each is a cousin that went it's own way, Neanderthals to extinction,
humans to the modern day, and Bigfoot to docking bay 94 to prep the Falcon.
This relates to the next issue, that of timing. According to Dr. Ketchum: "Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species."
But the most successful upright primate, Homo sapien, us, started flourishing between 100,000 to 300,000 years ago. Human, as in totally walkin' round in animal furs, getting stuck in frozen glaciers and bogs like the ice-man, agricultural-loving, settling-down-making-permanent communities-type humans.
Then randomly, right at the last second, somewhere in North America, a Bigfoot appears and has sex with a human, who gives birth to another Bigfoot?
Fig 1b, The Iceman.
And even if Bigfoots had only been around for 15,000 years, that's still enough time for a large ape wandering around the continent (and being ape, they'd be social so traveling in family groups) to fall into the La Brea Tar Pits or a mud pit, or the desert or even get frozen in Nunavut leaving some physical evidence. And for those who claim the beast is still around, Bigfeet have done an excellent task of concealing themselves. We can find trilobites on mountain-tops, micro-organisms on heat vents in the ocean floor and even basic life thriving in arsenic, but the best we can come up with for a biologically recent eight foot tall, North American primate are a couple "purported Sasquatch hairs." The origin of which has been "top secret."
Def a step up (get it, step, Bigfoot?) from the Ray Wallace footprint hoax.
Furthermore, goddammit, if he had been running around the North American continent, would he not feature more prominently in indigenous cultures as more than just a rumour that some modern day chiefs spread to drive up tourism to the casinos -- or when the Europeans arrived in the fifteenth century, with their penchant for discovering and wiping out new species not have made a big deal about capturing such creature or at least hunting such a beast for sport? Jaques Cartier lost his shit over a few codfish, but not a mention of great haired ape-men?
"Mon Dieu, regardez tous ces poissons putain!"
And even if they had almost all died out before then, what caused it, a virus? Would not a trace of this virus be found in the sequence Dr. Ketchum has decoded? Even if they had all died out, where are any minute traces in the fossil record -- not a tooth or a single bone? Not every animal that ever lived becomes a fossil but, we've found traces of enough now-extinct species to realize that the majority of all animals that have ever lived have already gone extinct.
Lastly Dr. Ketchum is convinced that the hair sample purported to be from Bigfoot is human DNA with some anomalies or an unknown species, and her team is filling the gaps with an explanation of Bigfoot.
Whereas Dr. Stephen Novella, a neurologist at Yale University, cautions “Human DNA plus some anomalies or unknowns does not equal an impossible human-ape hybrid...It equals human DNA plus some anomalies.”
Ultimately, once all the peer-reviewed research is in and the claim has been either verified as the proof of Bigfoot or another explanation is found, Dr. Ketchum will either win a Nobel Prize or have to go back to the drawing board. And if it turns out that this is in fact a previously unknown species it will be, for reasons mentioned above, the closest thing in the spectrum of life on Earth to a genetic island. One part human, one part ...??? which will only leave one explanation as to how unidentified DNA would end up in Earth's ecosystem....