Interested in what scientists trained in evolutionary biology think of the Melba Ketchum DNA paper?
You’ll want to watch 25 minutes of this Google Hangout of biologists called Breaking Bio.
The guest is David Winter, a PhD in evolutionary biology currently in New Zealand, who looked a bit closer at the sequences provided in the study. Here is what he and the others think.
If you don’t have time to watch it, I’ll summarize (and will notify David that this is online in case he wishes to correct anything I get wrong). Just an observation, David did a fine job of explanation. If you know a little biology, you should be able to follow his descriptions, no problem. David mentioned that he did this analysis as an obvious first step that any geneticist would do in an analysis. It’s basic.
First he noted that the sequences were distributed via a PDF file. Unconventional, to say the least. Also, it’s clear that this whole genome sequencing project was expensive work.
He says the first thing you do is “BLAST” the sequences . You may have heard Melba Ketchum mention “blasting” in some of her interviews. That means to take sequences and compare them to existing mapped sequences in a huge genetic database. GenBank® is where all DNA sequences should go to be shared with the scientific community. As was noted by Ketchum in the paper (see here: Update), that the results didn’t go there because of “lack of taxon” made little sense to the scientists.
The sequence did not match a hominin sequence but part of it did match very well with human chromosome 11. 60% didn’t match with anything on Earth (So called “Angel DNA“? Sorry, I went there…) and the rest of it matched with various animals such as panda, dog and bear, etc. These bits that matched may be a sign of a mixed sample.
So, as Winter notes, he’s not sure if the researchers are inept or deliberate in their interpretation but some of the DNA is perfectly matched to humans and the rest is “crap”. Some of the sequences, he said, were far too short to be the result of hybridization, making Ketchums claim of hybridization from 15,000 years ago not plausible. Others have also questioned the hybridization idea.
Contamination remains the obvious question. It’s not that the samples were contaminated necessarily by the collector but that the sample itself was a mix. So, no matter how careful they were in the lab to prevent investigator contamination (as Ketchum insists), the damage was already done if it was junk to begin with.
The folks on the show are not kind to the idea of Sasquatch so be forewarned of the snarkiness and many giggles (for the Ketchum apologists). But, you do have to sympathize with them. They have a hard time with this horrendous study. This is their field of study and this work is not of good quality. Therefore, this is further damning evidence that the paper was not shunned by science, it was simply rejected because it was not up to par.
I still suspect that other analyses will come forward to perhaps explain what might have happened with this samples. But, bottom line is, it is NOT being accepted as evidence of Sasquatch.
“The [phylogenetic] tree in Fig 16 is inconsistent with known primate phylogeny and generally makes no sense” – Leonid Kruglyak, Princeton U.
“I read as much of it as I could until the sheer weight of the BS became unbearable. Yes, I do have a PhD in genetics and do feel qualified to say that the manuscript is utter nonsense.” – Will in comments
Is Figure 13 (the Bigfoot “steak”) opossum skin? Is this a viral marketing campaign? When will it end?
Any further links to comments by actual geneticists and experts are welcome.
1. The Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) finds regions of local similarity between sequences. The program compares nucleotide or protein sequences to sequence databases and calculates the statistical significance of matches. BLAST can be used to infer functional and evolutionary relationships between sequences as well as help identify members of gene families.