The existence of Yeti as described in the folklore and mythology in the Tibetan Plateau–Himalaya region has been shrouded in mystery. According to the stories in the Himalayan region, Yeti, or the Abominable Snowman is an ape-like creature taller than a human being.
Though previous attempts in the biological identification of Yeti were not successful, a recent research report published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that Yeti is a bear. A multinational team of investigators led by Dr. Charlotte Lindqvist of the University of Buffalo at New York, report on new analyses of 24 field-collected and museum specimens, including hair, bone, skin and fecal samples, collected from bears or purported yetis in the Tibetan Plateau–Himalaya region. Of the nine samples of ostensibly "yeti" origin, eight turned out to be from bears native to the area.
The investigators used a set of genetic elements called mitochondria to characterize the genetic identify of the animal. The bulk of the genetic information in a cell is stored in the DNA which is contained in the nucleus. All nucleated cells also have a small circular DNA outside of the nucleus, within another cytoplasmic organelle called mitochondria. These DNA copies are therefore called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA. As these mtDNAs are outside of the nucleus, only the maternal mtDNAs will be transferred to the offsprings. Therefore, mtDNA serves as a marker of ancestry.
Based on both amplified mtDNA loci as well as complete mitogenomes, they reconstructed maternal phylogenies to increase knowledge about the phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary history of Himalayan and Tibetan bears. The scientists were able to determine the clade affinities of all the purported yeti samples in this study and inferred their well-supported and resolved phylogenetic relationships among extant bears in the Tibetan Plateau and surrounding Himalayan Mountains.
Next time when you go to the Himalayas you may not have to be worried about the ape-like Abominable Snowman. However, if you indeed encounter an animal of Yeti's description, make sure you have a bear repellent.
Tianying Lan, Stephanie Gill, Eva Bellemain, Richard Bischof, Muhammad Ali Nawaz, Charlotte LindqvistEvolutionary history of enigmatic bears in the Tibetan Plateau–Himalaya region and the identity of the yeti. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Published 29 November 2017.DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1804
Image Courtesy: Yeti by Philippe Semeria, Wikicommons