The decades-old hunt for the legendary Loch Ness monster may soon be put to rest with some modern technology.
A global team of scientists – led by Professor Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago in New Zealand – will take to the Scottish lake next month with DNA-detecting tools they hope will answer questions about the existence of Nessie.
Using environmental DNA sampling – or eDNA – the researchers will identify cells left in the water by creatures swimming through it to paint a picture of all the life in it.
“Whenever a creature moves through its environment, it leaves behind tiny fragments of DNA from skin, scales, feathers, fur, faeces and urine,” Prof Gemmell said.
“This DNA can be captured.”
They’ll then compare the results to other nearby lochs and a database of about 100,000 organisms to see if anything sticks out as unusual.
When he first proposed the plan last year, Prof Gemmell said the same method had been sensitive enough to find a single fish in a lake 20 kilometres downstream in previous tests – suggesting it wouldn’t have a problem finding Nessie.
But he didn’t think a negative result would put an end to the myth that brings thousands of tourists to the small lake in the Scottish Highlands.
“I don’t believe it exists, but I’m open to the possibility we may be wrong,” he said.
“It’s fair to say, a negative result will still leave some level of ambiguity.”
The researchers say while the monster is the “hook” for the work, there’s also a lot to be learned about the other life in the loch, Britain’s largest body of freshwater.