February 18, 2013

Update: Jim McClarin on Ketchum Sasquatch DNA Study

Here is my commentary from before the release of Ketchum’s paper:

I’ve been asked to comment on the Dr. Melba Ketchum’s paper, “Novel North American Hominins, Next Generation Sequencing of Three Whole Genomes and Associated Studies,” which I have now read.

First, the paper is highly technical, a challenging read for the lay person. I am not qualified to assess the specific tests or procedures covered in the paper and I have already discussed some of the implications should the results be verified by others in an earlier post below based solely on Ketchum’s news release about the impending release of her paper.

I had low expectations about the quality of the research before seeing the paper due to comments and rumors beginning months ago, further lowered by the paper’s reported publication via a brand-new and rather hokey Web site instead of in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. However, the paper itself has done much to redeem my view of Ketchum’s scientific focus and dedication to methodology.

The paper is well written with just a couple typos I noticed. It also strikes me 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.

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 hair and tissue were examined microscopically to ascertain whether any were from known wild or domestic animals or were clearly human. Some percentage were screened out on this basis, with 110 samples being accepted for DNA work, most of them hair.

A number of tests were done with sequence-specific primers, a quick and inexpensive way to check for the presence or absence of specific genes or gene sequences. Whole genome tests were run on two “next generation platforms,” very expensive machines that build virtual models by speedily identifying and comparing gene sequences in a sample, using only minute quantities of extracted DNA.

I already knew of Ketchum’s surprise finding that the mitochondrial DNA in all samples were modern human mtDNA. This was the basis of her contention that the source creatures were derived from at least one fully human female within their lineage and that all other females in the lineage of each source were either human or human hybrids. This she determined due to the fact that mtDNA is passed down from the mother in all cases; it is in fact the mitochondria in the original ovum that are replicated in all cell divisions. Only the nuclear DNA are intermingled at fertilization.

The nuclear DNA (nuDNA) in all samples, however, showed truly novel, non-human characteristics. Many human mtDNA gene sequences were found as well as sequences common in other primates, but significant portions could not be matched with any gene sequence in the Genbank® all-species database.

If all presumed Sasquatch creatures carry the human mtDNA it will be a strange case of a viable, fertile hybrid population, whose original male-side species that produced the first female hybrid has vanished. More likely, and Ketchum suggests as much, there are potential Sasquatch mtDNA creatures and hopefully pure Sasquatches running around who are rather more aloof and never made it into Ketchum’s samples.

A new feature I found in the paper was the pegging of mtDNA haplotypes found in the samples to regional and racial human populations, Mainly European and Middle Eastern but also including some African and Native American haplotypes.”

Ketchum includes a tree graph based on mtDNA haplotypes that at first impression appears to be a crazy, screwed up taxonomic tree. It’s not, but at least one debunker has seized on the tree as evidence Ketchum is a loon and not to be listened to. In reality, I suppose he didn’t know what he was looking at.

One criticism I would offer is that several images in the report needed explanatory captions. On the whole, any DNA specialist who bothers to read the paper should find sufficient material there to pique his/her interest. Indeed, Ketchum in a followup claims that several have already requested to re-test her samples based on her findings, a vital step in either validating via replication or contesting through failure to replicate. Ketchum herself intends to continue testing according to her final remarks in the paper.

~ Jim McClarin

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

Filed under Bigfoot, Bigfoot Report, Breaking News, Cryptozoology, Evidence, Forensic Science, Guest Blog, Reviews, Sasquatch