Nov 26 2012

Bigfoot DNA

The Bigfoot community (yes, they still exist) is abuzz with the announcement that Bigfoot/Sasquatch DNA has been analyzed with interesting results. Bigfoot is the alleged large North American furry hominid that roams the deep forest, largely in the Pacific Northwest. It is known only from sightings and ambiguous trace evidence (blurry photographs, footprints, hair samples), but is most famous from the Patterson-Gimlin film (touted by believers, but highly criticized by skeptics).

After decades, however, what we lack is a physical specimen. No one has captured a bigfoot, killed one, found a dead body or skeleton. There is also no fossil evidence supporting the existence of such a creature. Researchers have found biological samples (such as hair or skin) that they claimed were from a bigfoot. The big news today is that a five-year study to sequence and analyze DNA from these samples has now concluded. I predict that the results will be touted by believers but highly criticized by skeptics.

The results have not yet been peer-reviewed or published, so there will definitely need to to be follow up when this occurs. The work was headed by Dr. Melba Ketchum, a geneticist working in Texas. Apparently she was scooped by a Russian collaborator, Igor Butsev, who released the results on his Facebook page. Ketchum was then forced to put out a press release confirming the findings. The press release indicates:

“Our study has sequenced 20 whole mitochondrial genomes and utilized next generation sequencing to obtain 3 whole nuclear genomes from purported Sasquatch samples. The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species. Our data indicate that the North American Sasquatch is a hybrid species, the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens.

Ketchum further indicates that this alleged hybridization occurred no more than 15,000 years ago. The press release also further clarifies:

“Sasquatch nuclear DNA is incredibly novel and not at all what we had expected. While it has human nuclear DNA within its genome, there are also distinctly non-human, non-archaic hominin, and non-ape sequences. We describe it as a mosaic of human and novel non-human sequence. Further study is needed and is ongoing to better characterize and understand Sasquatch nuclear DNA.”

Until these results are peer-reviewed and published it is difficult to give a definitive critique, but from what is being reported a few things are clear. First, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is unambiguously human. I suspect these samples come from hair, which retains mtDNA but not nuclear DNA (nuDNA). (Mitochondria are the energy factory of cells, likely evolved from primitive bacteria, and still retain some of their own DNA. Nuclear DNA comes from the nucleus of cells and is the main genetic code of the organism.)

The nuDNA also contains human sequences but also unknown sequences. We are told these do not match Neanderthal, other known early hominids, or any known ape. They are simply unknown. So, in short, we have human DNA (not human-like, but human) mixed in with some unknown sequences. Ketchum concludes from this that the samples are from a hybrid between a human and an unknown primate occurring less than 15,000 years ago.

Let me offer a preliminary alternate hypothesis. The hair samples that contain only human mtDNA are from a human. The samples from which the nuDNA is isolated are also from humans but with some contaminants or some other animal source mixed in. That seems to be a more parsimonious interpretation. I would like to know more about the source of the DNA, but I guess that will have to wait for the full details to be published. The fact that the human DNA is modern human (hence the need for the alleged hybridization to have occurred so recently in the past) is most easily explained as the source simply being modern humans.

Let us also consider the scenario that Ketchum is suggesting – in the very recent past (less than 15,000 years) an unknown primate bred with modern human females (mtDNA comes almost exclusively from the female line) producing the creature we now know as bigfoot. What, then, must the original unknown primate looked like? The result of this pairing then produced fertile offspring, enough to generate a new stable population of bigfeet. It is highly doubtful that the offspring of a creature that looks like bigfoot and a human would be fertile. They would almost certainly be as sterile as mules. Humans could not breed with our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, or any living ape. It is probable that we could produce fertile young with Neanderthals, but it gets doubtful the further back in our evolutionary history we go – and how far back would we have to go to reach a common ancestor with bigfoot?

The bottom line is this – human DNA plus some anomalies or unknowns does not equal an impossible human-ape hybrid. It equals human DNA plus some anomalies.

Yet Ketchum (somewhat prematurely) suggests:

Government at all levels must recognize them as an indigenous people and immediately protect their human and Constitutional rights against those who would see in their physical and cultural differences a ‘license’ to hunt, trap, or kill them.”

What can be recognized is the process of pseudoscience – anomaly hunting and then backfilling to the desired conclusion. What we don’t have is compelling evidence for a new species.

29 responses so far

29 thoughts on “Bigfoot DNA”

  1. nybgrus says:

    This has been all over Reddit lately. I have glanced through it and of course my BS meter went off like crazy. Being on vacation at the future in-laws for Turkey Day, however, I did not sit down and really think about it. However, your preliminary assessment is exactly what I was thinking as the most reasonable explanation. The biggest thing for me is that if you are proposing a hybrid between human and [X], yet you have never, ever, ever seen or sampled [X] then it is impossible to prove that by exclusion. There are simply too many possible contaminants and too many ways that contaminants could be degraded to say definitely that the unknown sequences are definitively not any animal on earth except for Bigfoot.

    I’m happy to report though that on the Reddit comments, the vast majority of them were appropriately skeptical and also pretty on the money with the criticisms. Some, however, thought it was a joke/hoax based on the fact that the author’s last name is Ketchum which is the same as the protagonist of Pokemon and thus think that it is a play on Pokemon catching a Bigfoot.

  2. Kawarthajon says:

    I love how she automatically wants them to be recognized as an indigenous people and have rights, when we have never even seen one of them! Maybe we should also pass laws to protect the rights of extraterrestrial aliens, ghosts, spirits, spectres, zombies, and so forth. Hilarious.

  3. SARA says:

    I think if hair from more than one sight is gathered it would help to narrow the the controversy. I mean if you get the same hybrid conclusion from two different locations then (assuming no hoax) it would seem less likely to be a contaminant. Since what are the odds of the same contaminant being on both.

    Assuming there is hair from more than 1 site available.

  4. sonic says:

    DNA can be contaminated in any number of ways, so it seems likely that this is the case here.
    However– From the press release-
    “Ketchum is a veterinarian whose professional experience includes 27 years of research in genetics, including forensics. Early in her career she also practiced veterinary medicine, and she has previously been published as a participant in mapping the equine genome. She began testing the DNA of purported Sasquatch hair samples 5 years ago.”

    If that is true, then she no doubt knows about DNA contamination and the problems associated with that. So I think she might have reason to discount that explanation. I can’t tell from the press release.

    We shall see.

  5. nybgrus says:

    Luc Montagnier is a Nobel laureate who published that execrable article on DNA magically teleporting itself without considering (and still failing to) that contamination was the likeliest explanation, especially given he used nested PCR.

    I don’t think her supposed previous experience exonerates an oversight of the most likely explanation in favor of much more far fetched ones.

  6. Bronze Dog says:

    I remember facepalming when a chatroom friend defended the Bigfoot hypothesis with the usual argument that they’re shy creatures and that they bury their dead, hence we never see them. Seems like really shallow thinking to me. It assumes that bigfeet are uniformly shy without exception, even though we carry around a lot of tasty food, useful tools, and shiny trinkets that’d continuously tempt them to make a quick grab and risk getting caught on camera. I’d think that if bigfeet did exist, there’d be garbage cans advertised as bigfoot-proof, animal welfare groups tugging your heart strings with pictures of mistreated bigfeet being cared for in captivity, and national parks warning campers to not feed them after some yahoos got a little too friendly for their own good. We wouldn’t be positing weird hypotheses based on questionable DNA samples that look like contaminated human DNA.

    Even if they were uniformly shy, I’d expect we’d still be able to catch clear photos of them from automatic cameras like we do with existing shy wildlife. Even if they’re initially scared of cameras, that doesn’t mean they won’t accidentally stumble into one’s viewing range on occasion. It’s not like they’re ninjas deliberately avoiding detection, either. They’d be more likely interested in survival, and a camera “trap” wouldn’t present an immediate threat, especially if they see non-bigfoot animals taking the bait and getting away undisturbed. If they were super-flighty enough to react in abject terror to cameras, I’d wonder if they spook at everyday phenomena in the wild. If you’re too flighty to take risks, you’re less likely to get enough food to survive. I’d be impressed if the super-flighty bigfeet could survive as a species.

  7. sonic says:

    I had not seen Luc’s paper about DNA until now. It seems the experiment is not too complex or difficult for a good lab to run.
    It does seem contamination could be the explanation, and it seems the vials were not blinded to the testers– red flag. Obviously this needs to be looked at further before accepting.

    Yet I couldn’t find a single report of attempt to replicate.
    Do you know of one?

  8. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Sasquatch nuclear DNA is incredibly novel and not at all what we had expected.

    If it’s “not at all” what she expected Sasquatch DNA to be, why does she continue to call it Sasquatch DNA? Since they didn’t announce any body identifiable as a “Sasquatch” (I presume that they would have presented that as the lead story), this DNA test was all they had as confirmation that whatever skin flake they found is from a Sasquatch. And since there is no existing standard for what qualifies as Sasquatch DNA, I was expecting that confirmation to be some post-hoc BS about how whatever result was exactly what Sasquatch DNA should look like. I didn’t expect such an emphatic admission that the results were inconsistent with even their vague undefined hypothesis.

    SwiftKey is automatically capitalizing “Sasquatch” when I type it. I am OK with this.

  9. DLC says:

    Okay, sasquatch fans, bring me one. Not a hair sample that came off Aunt Mamie, an honest to Bob animal, alive or dead. come on. you’ve had the last 30+ years to search for one and find one. Why is it their bodies always vaporize when they die ? How come all you can find is some bits of questionable hair ?
    Oh, and who paid for this study ? I really hope my Tax Dollars weren’t spent on this.

  10. nybgrus says:


    as far as I know, there were no replications. The point was to say that even someone extremely well credentialied could skip over patently obvious explanations for whatever intrinsic reasons happen to be afoot.

    It was merely a point to illustrate that, despite what we would like to believe, credentials do not ensire rigorous experimental design or analysis

  11. sonic says:

    Thanks- I got tired of looking.

    I notice in physics there are ‘teams’ that have very good records when it comes to experimental design and set-up. Work done by others can be good but includes some pretty lame designs and interpretations. So the problem of bad design and questionable execution and questionable interpretation is not unique here.

    I note that many studies I read claim applicability to populations never sampled– my favorite pet peeve when it comes to experimental design and interpretation. (They take a non-random sample of college sophomores taking a psyche class and claim applicability to ‘humans’, for example.)

    Anyway, I thought there would be attempts– I think the ‘cold fusion’ experiments were good for this– odd claim quickly followed by failed attempts at replication.

  12. nybgrus says:


    No worries. There have been no replications since the original data was relatively new and no reasonable scientist would think it a real effect. There may have actually been some – I just don’t know – because the work was so sloppy and the claim so preposterous that I was content writing it off and using it as an example of how even the best trained scientists are not infallible.

    You are absolutely correct that study design issues are most certainly not limited to medical or even biological sciences. However, it can also be said that biological sciences (or “squishy” science as I like to call it) tends to be more prone to these errors – either avoidable or not – because what we are studying is so far removed from basic principles. It was Lawrence Krauss who said that he went into theoretical physics because it is easier than biology for this very reason.

    Your comment on the college sophomores study is something very well known and any reasonable doctor should apply this understanding regularly. It is literally drilled into our heads to understand the concept of generalizability and I have had explicit assignments to demonstrate I know how to determine if the study actually describes my patient or not.

    That said, this can and is abused. The fact that a study was done on white males aged 40-60 living in the US with an upper middle socioeconomic status does mean that we can’t be so confident in generalizing that finding to poor black women aged 20-40, but it does not mean there is zero applicability to that group. There are underlying principles of physiology and biology that we can lean on in the absence of evidence and use to make educated decisions on treatment. We just need to be more cautious and aware that the evidence is not as strong. But many, especially altie types but also many physicians still in the “cowboy” mentality who bristle at evidence based medicine, use this to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  13. Tyler H says:

    While I do know enough about this situation to have loads of skepticism, I must point out one erroneous line of reasoning by mr novella:
    “The samples from which the nuDNA is isolated are also from humans but with some contaminants or some other animal source mixed in.”

    You can’t do that, or have that – if you have a mixture of animal DNA in a sample, then the tests will show it up as Animal X, animal Y, and animal Z, once the right primers are used. You do not get a result that looks like ONE contributor, who has DNA of several types.

  14. ConspicuousCarl says:


    As it turns out, Ketchum says her DNA sample was obtained from a blueberry bagel left in the backyard of a Michigan home that, according to the owner, sees regular visits from Sasquatch creatures.

  15. sonic says:

    It is possible that replications were attempted and failed in the case of the Luc experiments- they just didn’t get published. I’d bet if there were a confirming experiment it would make the news. As I understand it, Luc has made a number of statements that indicate he may have lost a few marbles; notably his apparent backing of the notion that vaccines have something to do with autism.
    Things like that probably don’t add a lot of confidence to other claims he makes. Just saying…

    I agree that a study can be applicable to populations not directly sampled, but these decisions are not mathematical ones, rather they have to be based on knowledge that says the differences don’t matter in this specific case.
    And yes, I see how that could be used to deny evidence.
    No doubt something I have been guilty of before myself… 🙂

    It is much easier to sample the population of electrons (we assume they are all the same) than it is to sample the human race (everyone different). Never mind the electron doesn’t mind being tested relentlessly and with whatever means one can bring to bear on it. And they are so readily available.
    People aren’t that way so much. Go figure.

    I couldn’t find where Ketchum said the samples were from a bagel, but if that is true–
    It would seem that if the place where the sample was taken was frequented by the Sasquatch creatures there would be easier ways of studying them than trying to analyze the DNA from a bagel.
    The DNA was from hair samples– nothing like a few hairs on a bagel to make for compelling evidence of hither to unseen creatures! 🙂

    I wonder if this publicity will be good for business… I don’t think it’s gonna be good if it turns out that the human female mated with a blueberry to form the Sasquatch- although it might be interesting to see the attempt to replicate that procedure. 🙂

    I note my word processing software doesn’t know the word Sasquatch.
    I think I’ll keep it that way.

  16. ccbowers says:

    “I think Bigfoot is blurry, that’s the problem. It’s not the photographer’s fault. Bigfoot is blurry, and that’s extra scary to me. ‘There’s a large out of focus monster roaming the countryside.’ ‘Look out, he’s fuzzy, let’s get out of here.'” Mitch Hedberg

  17. nybgrus says:


    It is Doctor Novella, not mister Novella. Perhaps an innocent oversight and generally of no consequence, except that intentional oversight is not infrequently used as a derogatory intended as a subtle ad hominem.

    However, I do disagree with your assertion and critique.

    Your critique assumes that the correct primers were used with the intent to find specific animal contaminants. As far as I know, this was not he case here.

    Your assertion hinges on the sample being separate enough to make the distinction and further assumes that in no case could anything else be reasonably found. If the sample was older and exposed to the elements, it is quite reasonable decay could lead to a muddied result. In any case, sloppy work and a desire to see a single source could lead to erroneous interpretation of results, especially in such a muddied case.

    And if the link CC provided is correct, contamination is indeed a likely probability.

  18. BillyJoe7 says:

    ‘It is Doctor Novella, not mister Novella.’

    Actually, he said “mister novella”.
    But I doubt Steve would have an issue with it.
    (Hmmm…is it acceptable to refer to Steven Novella as “Steve”?)
    In any case, he does not use the “Doctor” appellation in this blog.

  19. nybgrus says:

    BJ – he actually does use the appellation here, but fair enough it is not particularly prominent.

    And of course I don’t think Dr. Novella would care much, nor is it really that big a deal. I was merely pointing out that while an innocent and completely inconsequential oversight can easily explain it, such a tactic is indeed used around these parts as an ad hominem argument. And for some reason, the rest of the post just struck me as being in line with such use. I could be completely wrong and will be happy to admit it if that is the case.

  20. ccbowers says:


    Very nice. I like it. I would only be slightly surprised if this argument is eventually used by someone in the bigfoot community (that blurriness is an actual feature of bigfoot), similar to the way that “The Onion” articles are occasionally treated as legitimate articles by unknowing people.

  21. nybgrus says:

    Yes indeed. Unknowing people like US senators, foreign diplomats, and the NY Times and unknowing corporations like Faux News.

    Though I reckon that is more an example of motivated reasoning, rather than ignorance…

  22. ccbowers says:

    Or “People’s Daily,” a Chinese newspaper thinking that Kim Jong Un was really awarded ‘the sexiest man alive’, and writing a long article about it just recently.

  23. Bronze Dog says:

    I would only be slightly surprised if this argument is eventually used by someone in the bigfoot community (that blurriness is an actual feature of bigfoot), similar to the way that “The Onion” articles are occasionally treated as legitimate articles by unknowing people.

    Years ago on the JREF forums, I had the pleasure of reading a (probably mentally unstable) troll arguing that all photos of Bigfoot are blurry because bigfeet are supernatural aliens who shapeshift 10,000 times a second. They’re “obviously” supernatural because there’s no evidence of a natural animal. He also posted a lot of photos of nothing in the woods in the dark, claiming that various shadows/blurry shapes/areas of negative space were bigfeet.

  24. panvy says:

    For the people that think that bigfoot is fake that have posted on this site . Sit back and really think about what you are claiming . Fact – Yes there is some people out there doing bigfoot pranks . Fact – there is way too many reports of people seeing a bigfoot type of creature that have actually seen something other than a man and or bear . Fact – for the people that thinks its the witnesses imagination or bad lighting , ect , or come up with some useless excuse you need to spend some time in the woods and think outside of the box . For the DNA test that was done on a so-called bigfoot samples of hair .Why would you ever give it to a scientist that has had so many complaints against her in the past on other DNA tests ? And obviously she took so long with the outcome ! I would never put any faith in anything she has to say ! Obviously more DNA tests should be done by other scientists on the sample ! You cant just go off of one scientists opinions or findings on those types of tests ! NO, they are not related to humans . They are a ape species , nothing more . For the people that think a bigfoot cant survive in the wilderness due to food , again you need to sit back and really think about what your saying . If a black bear and a grizzly bear can survive in the woods that weight up to or over 1000 lbs , then a bigfoot surely can . The proof is right in front of you due to the Patterson film and people still don’t believe . Well you have that proof due to the Patterson film and the bottom jaw bone of the giant ape Gigantipithicaus . The Patterson film is not a person in a suit . There is technology out there and once used correctly it shows that it Is NOT a man in a suit . Everyone has there beliefs and opinions , but it is time for the truth to be know .

  25. timsta62 says:

    @panvy. ” NO, they are not related to humans . They are a ape species , nothing more.”

    There are several reasons why your assertion is false. To begin with, there is the observational fact that, in the Patterson-Gimlin footage, ‘Patty’ is seen walking upright as a human does, with a human gait, not the outward bent-legged ambling gait of any of the apes.

    I agree that the footage is genuine, the sinews at the base of the right arm as it swings and the hernia bulge in the right thigh upon contact with the ground not things that could be replicated in a man-made suit back in 1967.

    But what you have to understand is that Dr Ketchum’s analyses involved 110 samples and, according to Jim McClarin on, “she was very thorough in explaining what steps were taken to insure quality results, everything from washing and rinsing samples and repeat tests to contracting seven independent laboratories to run tests on the samples without divulging their supposed source to see if they got concurring results.” He adds, “The samples she tested were collected by field researchers who either stated or suspected they came from a Bigfoot/Sasquatch creature. They came from 14 states and two Canadian provinces and included hair, blood, saliva, and one piece of skin with hair attached.”

    The conclusions she reached do NOT allow for any possibility of Sasquatch being derived from apes. The mitochondrial DNA is passed down from the mother in all cases, and according to Dr Ketchum, was found to be modern human [homo sapiens]. The nuclear DNA [male side] she claims is from an unknown hominid [that excludes apes, who, while they are hominoid, are not hominins or hominids].

    Humans cannot reproduce with apes [chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans], their genetic makeups being sufficiently different to prevent that from happening, thankfully.

    I have my own theory as to the advent of Sasquatch, but it isn’t one that I would choose to share on this forum.

    Nonetheless, they do exist, and it is obvious to me that they are hominids; not pans, not pongos, not gorillax3s, and not homo sapiens.

  26. squatchy says:

    We are just recently in a modern age for over 100 years with planes, trains and automobiles and many people think we have discovered every species here on Earth. Its barely over 100 years since we were rolling around by horse and wagon. We find thousands of new species in the ocean every year that we did not think existed or could exist. Most people are blind and naive who think Sasquatch could not exist into today’s modern world. As the greedy human people moved into its territory the intelligent Sasquatch moved north to the millions of acres of untracked territory that rarely sees the likes of mankind. Growing up in the Great Northwest i heard of many credible accounts of Sasquatch sightings that not only put fear into the Indian Tribes hundreds of years ago but also the modern day Americans who camped and hiked in the woods. Human Beings are killers of their own who still fight wars and claim they are humane. Sasquatch does not kill its own and has seen the horrific deeds of Mankind from the corner of the forest for thousands of years. In my opinion they are a half breed species from the hominids that went their own way due to the continued killing greed and brutality of Mankind. Sasquatch is a peace full creature that needs to be left alone in the wilderness and trust me the National Forest Service protects Sasquatch at all costs. Why you would think… Its quite simple really… Once the Government proves evidence the creature actually exists crazy hunters around the world will hunt Sasquatch out of existence. The government has several species of Sasquatch on ice as well as Alien beings. Why is this all kept on the down low…CONTROL OF MANKIND…Religion controls Mankind and is the biggest business on Planet Earth. Dis prove Adam & Eve and divine intervention and all hell will break lose when Aliens and Bigfoot are let out of the bag. Remember this Humans…If Bigfoot is captured and put on display it proves evolution and Religions Laws, Rules and Regulations goes out the window.The religious right wing is barely holding onto souls with all the evolution evidence of humans from apes in the National museums. Every time someone find or kills a Bigfoot by accident or for personal gain The National Forest Service black ops Team is on the seen with in hours and disposes of the evidence. What would you dis believer’s suggest we do when the government gives up the goods… Put the gentle giant in the zoo for Gods sake so we can demean them like we do all the other animals. If you can actually catch the Stealthy Beast you would be considered an Elite hunter of super natural forces that would have to be stealthy quite in the dark to get even close. Not only is Sasquatch a 9ft Ninja with night vision it rarely comes out during the day. Sasquatch has navigated the wicked mountain terrain for thousands of years and set up many defense mechanisms and escape routes through under ground tunnels,caves and caverns that mankind knows nothing about. Sasquatch may also have a six sense when you get with in a mile of it. Trust me its not an accident when you see one they are curious as well and and most of the time just likes to play games with the crazy humans as it did with the Indians for centuries. Sure there is lots of hoaxes since the 70’s and still many to this day but how to we explain away sighting, folklore and cave pictures thousands of years ago. Several states to date have laws protecting the gentle giant and signs posted with fines if you kill one. Think i am joking… Research it yourself. In closing leave the Awesome Gentle Giant alone and keep it protected for ever.

  27. timsta62 says:

    @ squatchy – you state, “If Bigfoot is captured and put on display it proves evolution and Religions Laws, Rules and Regulations goes out the window.”

    How does it prove evolution? It does no such thing. This whole forum has been about Dr Ketchum’s study of what is purported to be Sasquatch DNA. Her study analyzed both the mitochondrial [female] and nuclear [male] DNA. As a result, they concluded that the nuclear DNA was not from ANY KNOWN species. So obviously they compared the DNA with other species, including all the apes.

    If evolution were fact, there would be no point in comparing DNA because it would always be in a state of readiness to change, or in an actual state of change, wouldn’t it? Living things would always be in the process of changing, or preparing to change, into another form of life.

    Show me where that is happening. I’ll wager you can’t. Why? Because DNA acts like a blueprint for the cell, ensuring its integrity. Where an error occurs in the genetic code [like 1 in 10 billion], disease or the growth of an appendage may occur. But there has never been found an instance where that error has worked to the advantage of the living creature. Rather the opposite has consistently been observed to be the case.

    The facts show that DNA prevents organic evolution from happening, thankfully. You cannot cross any ape with any human, because, as I said in my previous post, their genetic makeups are too different for that to happen. Apes are not hominids, so, just as homo sapiens cannot procreate with them, neither can Sasquatches. According to Dr Ketchum, their DNA would not allow it.

  28. starik says:

    Half of the nuclear DNA comes from the mother and half from the father. Everything else you said is correct.

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