Showing posts with label Dr. Mary Mangan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dr. Mary Mangan. Show all posts

Monday, November 26, 2012

First Bigfoot DNA "Peer Review" Results are In-- But, Not as Expected

Bigfoot DNA Causes More Questions Among the Scientific Community
The word peer review is in quotes in the title, because we are using it ironically and with reservation. We do not mean peer review in the scientific publication sense. We do mean, however, that scientific peers are interested in Dr. Melba Ketchum's Bigfoot DNA Press release. We have reactions from an invertebrate neuroethologist, a genome informatic expert, a DNA lab owner, and a professor of microbiology. There is a great consensus among these academics, they seem to have two reactions.
  1. While intriguing, the press release seems pre-mature and the timing seems odd since the manuscript has not been published and the peer review has not been completed.
  2.  Dr. Melba Ketchum does have credentials, let's hope it is legit.
NeuroDojo, run by Zen Faulkes, is a popular award-winning neuroscience blog has this to say. 
It’s not just the subject matter of the press release that is strange, though. There’s the little fact that it’s for a paper that is in review, not one that has been published. Usually, papers in review don’t get press releases, because goodness knows Reviewer Number 2 has taken a lot of manuscripts out of contention and they never see the light of day.

In fact, I have to admit: I am so pulling for Reviewer Number 2 to take this manuscript down. Preferably with sniper-style precision and finality. As one Twitter commenter said, this is something that most journal editors would not even send out for review.
NeuroDojo, seems to also be rooting for Dr. Melba ketchum.
That Ketchum is a published author on DNA techniques makes me think this is not a hoax. And I've smelled sasquatch hoaxes before...This feels much more like... overly enthusiastic interpretation, if I’m being charitable about it.
Dr. Mary Mangan of, has experience in the private and academic sectors of Genome Informatics, has this reaction:
It was irresistible. I had to read the release, and all I could think about was finding the Sasquatch Genome Browser. It eludes me right now.

Oh, I can’t wait to see this paper. For a laugh I searched PubMed to see what kind of Bigfoot data there is already, and to my surprise he’s in there.  Of course, the paper is about the psychology of monster hunters. And also about the tension between “amateur naturalists and professional scientists”.
Roberta Estes founder of DNAeXplain was in yesterday's post, "DNA Consulting Company is Intrigued by Melba Ketchum's Bigfoot DNA." Her enthusiasm and caution for the the project is clear.
There has been no smoking gun.  If this research is valid and passes peer review, it not only confirms that Sasquatch is real, it vindicates many of the people who have had “sightings” over the years.  It becomes the smoking gun.  But as with much science, it raises more  questions than it answers.

Indeed, I look forward to seeing this published paper and I hope it is legitimate and not pseudo-science of some sort.
And finally we got an email from Tyler A. Kokjohn, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology atMidwestern University.
It seems that we may have to wait for definitive information on the sequences.  Clearly, many people are quite interested in the outcome and it is a bit frustrating to be teased...Please note that these questions can be answered without compromising the research paper now under peer review.  Since the scientists elected to communicate with the public, they should be willing to offer clarifications and answer questions.  
Dr. Kokjohn had a series of fascinating questions that I would hope the Melba camp could answer.
What method was employed to sequence the DNA?  Some have interesting quirks.

Which gene(s) were sequenced, i.e., which genes did you use to decide the Bigfoot relationship to humans?

The statement was made that the mitochondrial genome is identical to human, but the nuclear DNA is distinct.  Moreover, a 15,000 year divergence point is estimated.  This is quite contrary to expectations.  Usually, the genes in a mitochondrion will yield a ‘faster’ evolutionary clock than the nuclear genes (higher mutation rate), that is partially why mitochondrial genes are used for the rapid identification of species.  It seems odd that the mitochondria sequence would be invariant.  This requires an explanation.

How deep was the sequencing of the genes in question?  To get at infrequent mutations, one must have gone over the same DNA multiple times to reach an accurate consensus.  A single pass sequence will have many errors in it and comparisons based on it may inflate the apparent evolutionary distances.  This is vital because Bigfoot and human sequences will be (apparently) VERY closely related.  To get a feel for the challenges of working with closely-related species, search the work of Svante Paabo with Neanderthal DNA on PubMed.

Are the gene(s) you used for the Bigfoot-human comparisons protein coding?  Would the sequence changes you found in the homologous genes yield amino acid codons that are synonymous (no amino acid change), substitutions (new amino acids) or nonsense (protein chain terminated)?  This can help one decide whether or not the new sequence makes sense or contains deletions/insertions and other errors.

What was the nature of the sample from which DNA was obtained?  Had it been exposed to the elements?  How do you know it is from Bigfoot? If the sample is degraded, DNA sequences will likely exhibit alterations.

How did they avoid contamination with authentic human DNA?
So, in a manner of speaking, this is as close to a peer review for now. These are the initial reactions and questions of well-respected authorities;  an invertebrate neuroethologist, a genome informatic expert, a DNA lab owner, and a professor of microbiology.

More questions then answers? What did the late Richard Stubstad know? Richard Stubstad claims to have worked on the first four of the 20 sequences Melba mentions in her press release.

Please read our terms of use policy.