In legend, Yeti is a huge and furry human-resembling creature also referred to as the Abominable Snowman, but in science, Yeti is just a bear.
Now the question is: what kind of bear? A new study, published in the journal ZooKeys, concludes that hair sample "evidence" for Yeti actually comes from Himalayan brown bears. The finding refutes an earlier study that the hair belonged to an unknown type of bear related to polar bears.
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At the center of the controversy are DNA analysis studies. Prior research, led by Bryan Sykes at the University of Oxford, determined that hairs formerly attributed to Yeti belonged to to a mysterious bear species that may not yet be known to science.
Sykes told Discovery News that his paper "refers to two Himalayan samples attributed to yetis and which turned out to be related to an ancient polar bear. This may be the source of the legend in the Himalayas."
The new study, however, calls this possibility into question. The research, in this case, was authored by Eliécer E. Gutiérrez of the Smithsonian Institution and Ronald Pine at the University of Kansas.
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Gutiérrez and Pine found that genetic variation in brown bears makes it impossible to assign, with certainty, the samples tested by Sykes and his co-authors to either brown bears or to polar bears.
Because of genetic overlap, the samples could have come from either species, but because brown bears occur in the Himalayas, Gutiérrez and Pine think there is no reason to believe that the samples in question came from anything other than ordinary Himalayan brown bears.
For the new study, Gutiérrez and Pine also examined how the gene sequences analyzed might show the ways in which six present-day species of bears - including the polar bear, the brown bear, and the extinct Eurasian cave bear - might be related.
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This opened up a new mystery, as DNA from an Asian black bear in Japan indicated that this bear was not closely related to the mainland members of that species. The researchers believe that this unexpected large evolutionary distance between the two geographic groups of the Asian black bear merits further study.
"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," Gutiérrez concluded.
As for Yeti, believers might point out that the studies only looked at hair samples, and not the footprints, photographs, recorded sounds and other "evidence" for the Abominable Snowman.
Image: A recreation of the legendary Yeti. Credit: Wikimedia Commons