Scientist claims he's got DNA evidence proving what the yeti really is

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Oct 21, 2013, 11:51 AM EDT

The yeti could indeed be real, but according to new evidence, it might not be what we think it is.

For decades now, various scientists -- some very reputable, some not-so-reputable -- have been working to solve the mystery of the mythic primate known throughout the world by names like Bigfoot, sasquatch and the Abominable Snowman. Theories have ranged from unknown human/primate hybrids to the "missing link" in human evolution, and now one genetics expert has come up with another idea: It could just be a previously unknown species of bear.

Bryan Sykes, a genetics professor at Oxford University, recently set out to see if he could find any kind of genetic explanation for the "yeti" commonly sighted in and aroud the Himalayan mountain range in Asia. Sykes acquired hair samples from two unknown animals in two different regions of the Himalayas, 800 miles apart, and put them through very advanced DNA testing. He then compared his results to other animal DNA samples stored in the GenBank database.

So, what did he find? It turns out Sykes' samples were a 100 percent match with DNA taken from an ancient polar bear jawbone that's at least 40,000 years old, but possibly as old as 120,000 years. That's a key piece of information, because 120,000 years ago, polar bears and brown bears, which are very closely related, were just beginning to separate into different species. According to Skyes, this link to the ancient polar bear, in particular a polar bear that was still so close to the brown bear, could mean that the yeti is in fact a polar bear/brown bear hybrid.

"This is an exciting and completely unexpected result that gave us all a surprise. There's more work to be done on interpreting the results. I don't think it means there are ancient polar bears wandering around the Himalayas," Skyes said.

"But we can speculate on what the possible explanation might be. It could mean there is a sub species of brown bear in the High Himalayas descended from the bear that was the ancestor of the polar bear. Or it could mean there has been more recent hybridisation between the brown bear and the descendent of the ancient polar bear."

Sykes' theory is backed up by a 300-year-old Tibetan manuscript studied by fellow Bigfoot researcher and mountaineer Reinhold Messner. The manuscript includes an image of a yeti and a description: "The yeti is a variety of bear living in inhospitable mountainous areas." 

But as Skyes himself notes, there's still more to do before it can be proven that this bear DNA he uncovered is, in fact, from a yeti. Sykes' investigation will be chronicled in a new BBC documentary, Bigfoot Files, which is set to air in the U.K. beginning this Sunday. He's also written a book about his work, The Yeti Enigma: A DNA Detective Story, which will be published in spring 2014.

In the meantime, we're left to wonder: Did Sykes solve the mystery of the yeti, or did he just find an unrelated species of bear that happens to roam the same region?

(Via The Independent)