T The Yeti or Abominable Snowman, a mysterious monkey-like creature that inhabits the high mountains of Asia, occupies a prominent place in the mythology of Nepal and Tibet.
Sightings have been reported for centuries. Footprints have been seen. The stories have been pbaded down from generation to generation.
Now, a new DNA study of alleged Yeti samples from museums and private collections is providing insight into the origins of this Himalayan legend.
Research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B badyzed nine "Yeti" specimens, which included samples of bones, teeth, skin, hair and feces collected in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. Of those, one turned out to be from a dog. The other eight were from Asian bears, one from an Asian black bear, one from a brown bear from the Himalayas and the other six from brown Tibetan bears.
"Our findings strongly suggest that the biological foundations of the Yeti legend can be found in local bears, and our study demonstrates that genetics should be able to unravel other similar mysteries," says lead scientist Charlotte Lindqvist, PhD, Associate Professor of Life Sciences at the University of Buffalo School of Arts and Sciences.
Lindqvist's team is not the first to investigate "Yeti" DNA, but previous projects performed simpler genetic badyzes, leaving important issues unresolved, he says.
"This study represents the most rigorous badysis to date of samples suspected of being anomalous or mythical" hominin-like creatures ", Lindqvist and his co-authors write in their new document.
Lindqvist says that science can be a Useful tool to explore the roots of myths about large and mysterious creatures.
Notes that in Africa, the long-standing Western legend of an "African unicorn" was explained at the beginning of the 20th century by British researchers, who found and described the flesh and bone okapi, a relative giraffe that looks like a mix between that animal and a zebra and a horse.
And in Australia, where people and large animals may have coexisted thousands of years ago, some scholars have speculated about references to huge animal-like creatures in Australian aborigines.The mythology "Dreamtime" may have arisen from ancient encounters with the megafauna or its remains, known today as the fossil record of Australia.
But although those connections are uncertain, Lindqvist's work, like the discovery of the okapi, is straightforward: "Clearly, a large part of the Yeti legend has to do with bears," he says.
She and her colleagues investigated samples such as a piece of skin on the hand or the claw of a "Y". eti "- part of a monastic relic – and a femur fragment of a decayed" Yeti "found in a cave on the Tibetan plateau.The skin sample turned out to be of an Asian black bear and the bone of a Tibetan brown bear. 19659003] The "Yeti" samples that Lindqvist examined were provided to him by the British production company Icon Films, which presented it at the 2016 Special Animal Planet "YETI OR NOT", which explored the origins of the legendary being.
Solving a mystery Scientist, too: How enigmatic bears evolved
In addition to tracing the origins of the Yeti legend, Lindqvist's work is discovering information about the evolutionary history of Asian bears.
"Bears in this region are vulnerable or critically threatened from a conservation perspective, but not much is known about its past history, "he says." The brown bears of the Himalayas, for example, are in grave danger of extinction. Clarification of population structure and genetic diversity can help estimate population size and develop management strategies. "
Scientists sequenced the mitochondrial DNA of 23 Asian bears (including the supposed Yetis) and compared these genetic data with those of other bears around the world.
This badysis showed that, although Tibetan brown bears share a common ancestor with their North American and Eurasian relatives, the brown bears of the Himalayas belong to a different evolutionary lineage that diverged at the beginning of all the other brown bears.
The division occurred approximately 650,000 years ago, during a period of glaciation, according to the scientists The moment suggests that the expansion of the glaciers and the mountainous geography of the region may have separated the bears from the Himalayas of others, leading to a prolonged period of isolation and an independent evolutionary path.  "More genetic research on these rare and elusive animals helps illuminate the environmental history of the region, as well as having an evolutionary history around the world, and additional samples of & # 39; Yeti & # 39; could contribute to this work, "says Lindqvist.
Lan T, Gill S, Bellemain E, Bischof R, Nawaz MA, Lindqvist C. Evolutionary history of enigmatic bears in the region of The Tibetan-Himalayan Plateau and the Yeti Identity Proc Biol Sci. 2017 December 13; 284 (1868) pii: 20171804. doi: 10.1098 / rspb.2017.1804 PubMed PMID: 29187630.