Tag Archives: Melba Ketchum

How the attempt to sequence “Bigfoot’s genome” went badly off track

bigfoot right there
Humans interbred with an unknown hominin in Europe, then crossed the Bering Sea — say what?

by via Ars Technica

finding-bigfoot_250pxWhen we first looked at the report of the bigfoot genome, it was an odd mixture of things: standard methods and reasonable looking data thrown in with unusual approaches and data that should have raised warning flags for any biologist. We just couldn’t figure out the logic of why certain things were done or the reasoning behind some of the conclusions the authors reached. So, we spent some time working with the reported genome sequences themselves and talked with the woman who helped put the analysis together, Dr. Melba Ketchum. While it didn’t answer all of our questions, it gave us a clearer picture of how the work came to be.

The biggest clarification made was what the team behind the results considered their scientific reasoning, which makes sense of how they ran past warning signs that they were badly off track. It provided an indication of what motivated them to push the results into a publication that they knew would cause them grief.

Melba Ketchum and the bigfoot genome

The public face of the bigfoot genome has been Melba Ketchum, a Texas-based forensic scientist. It was Ketchum who first announced that a genome was in the works, and she was the lead author of the paper that eventually described it. That paper became the one and only publication of the online journal De Novo; it’s still the only one to appear there.

The paper itself is an odd mix of things. There’s a variety of fairly standard molecular techniques mixed in with a bit of folklore and a link to a YouTube video that reportedly shows a sleeping Sasquatch. In some ways, the conclusions of the paper are even odder than the video. They suggest that bigfeet aren’t actually an unidentified species of ape as you might have assumed. Instead, the paper claims that bigfeet are hybrids, the product of humans interbreeding with a still unknown species of hominin.

bigfoot_200pxAs evidence, it presents two genomes that purportedly came from bigfoot samples. The mitochondrial genome, a small loop of DNA that’s inherited exclusively from mothers, is human. The nuclear genome, which they’ve only sequenced a small portion of, is a mix of human and other sequences. Some are closely related, others quite distant.

But my initial analysis suggested that the “genome sequence” was an artifact, the product of a combination of contamination, degradation, and poor assembly methods. And every other biologist I showed it to reached the same conclusion. Ketchum couldn’t disagree more. “We’ve done everything in our power to make sure the paper was absolutely above-board and well done,” she told Ars. “I don’t know what else we could have done short of spending another few years working on the genome. But all we wanted to do was prove they existed, and I think we did that.”

How do you get one group of people who looks at the evidence and sees contamination, while another decides “The data conclusively prove that the Sasquatch exists”? To find out, we went through the paper’s data carefully, then talked to Ketchum to understand the reasoning behind the work.

MORE . . .

%d bloggers like this: