NEW YORK — A team of an evolutionary biologist and a zoologist has refuted a recent claim that an unknown type of bear must exist in the Himalayas and that it may be, at least in part, the source of yeti legends.
Eliecer E. Gutierrez from Smithsonian Institution and Ronald H. Pine from the University of Kansas reached the conclusion through DNA sequencing.
Last year, B. Sykes and co-authors, in the course of mitochondrial DNA sequencing identification of hair samples that had been attributed to "anomalous primates" (yetis, bigfoots and others), claimed that the two samples said to have come from the Himalayas had a 100 percent match with DNA recovered from a fossilized polar bear from over 40,000 years ago.
On this basis, they concluded that a currently unknown type of bear must inhabit that part of Asia.
Later, however, C. J. Edwards and R. Barnett showed that the sample that matched Sykes and co-authors' Himalayan ones, was in fact, from a present-day polar bear from Alaska, not from a fossil.
They hypothesised that the genetic material in the samples attributed to an unknown type of bear might have been misleading because of degradation.
Now, Gutierrez and Pine have concluded that the relevant genetic variation in brown bears makes it impossible to assign with certainty Sykes and co-authors' samples to either that species or the polar bear.
In fact, because of genetic overlap, the samples could have come from either one.
Since brown bears live in the Himalayas, Gutierrez and Pine therefore said that there was no reason to believe that the samples in question came from anything other than ordinary Himalayan brown bears.
As part of their study, Gutierrez and Pine examined how the gene sequences analysed might show the ways in which six present-day species of bears, including the Polar Bear and the Brown Bear, and the extinct Eurasian Cave Bear might be related.
The results were partly in agreement with past studies but were also showing some new insights.
"In fact, a study looking at the genetic and morphological variability of Asian black bear populations throughout the geographic distribution of the species is yet to be conducted, and it would surely yield exciting results," Gutierrez said.
Their study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.