Yetis are real, they just also happen to be Himalayan brown bears

Posted by K R on

It would be easy to dismiss the myth of the yeti as just that: a myth. There’s no conclusive evidence that a giant, ape-like creature lives in the Himalayas (or anywhere else, for that matter). But the beauty of science is that we don’t just have to roll our eyes. We can test the hypothesis. And yetis, as it turns out, are real. That is, if you’re willing to accept "yeti" as the nickname of a reclusive (but not at all undiscovered) population of bears high in the Himalaya mountains. We probably know less about these very real bears than we “know” about the yeti, which is why biologist Charlotte Lindqvist was so interested when the Icon Film company reached out to her with a proposition. Lindqvist had researched an ancient polar bear that, according to a 2014 study, was the real culprit behind yeti lore. Icon Film wanted to know if she thought that was plausible, given criticism the study drew. Was the yeti really this an extinct beast, or was it instead a hybrid between polar and brown bears? Or was it possibly a local type of bear with few studies to its name? And by the way, would she like to get access to rare samples from those local bears? Why yes, yes she would. As an expert in bear evolution, the University at Buffalo's Lindqvist wasn’t so much captured by the idea of a yeti as she was by the thought of getting her hands on Himalayan bear hair samples. These creatures live high up in snowy mountains, and they generally don’t want to be found. They’ve hardly been studied, much less at a genetic level, and Lindqvist saw an opportunity to work out a bit of the Ursidae evolutionary tree. Correcting yeti misconceptions would just sweeten the pot. That previous paper didn’t really prove what it claimed to prove. It looked at a sequence of mitochondrial DNA (yes, the powerhouse of the cell is used in genetic sequencing), but the particular region the scientists focused on is highly conserved in bear populations. That means that polar and brown and black bears all have extremely similar, if not identical, sequences there. It makes no sense to claim that a sample matched an ancient polar bear based on this stretch of DNA, because that sequence would match almost any bear. Read More: Popular Science

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