The whole Sasquatch thing may be moving from the realm of the weird to the level of "truth is stranger than fiction."
That will depend on how mainstream science responds to the impending release of a five-year DNA study apparently suggesting Sasquatch exists, and is not entirely human and not entirely non-human. It is, says the study's author, a hybrid cross of the two.
The research was done by a team led by Melba Ketchum, a former veterinarian who moved into genetic research 27 years ago and runs DNA Diagnostics, Inc., based in Texas. Ketchum had hoped to see the results announced in a peer-reviewed scientific journal but they were "outed" last Friday by a note on the website of the Russia-based International Center of Hominology.
The center's director, listed on the site as Dr. Igor Burtsev, wrote that Ketchum's findings prove Sasquatch or Bigfoot "is human like us only different, a hybrid of a human with unknown species."
Reached by telephone Monday, Ketchum said the 50-page manuscript containing the research and DNA findings is still in peer review at a scientific journal. As for whether the premature announcement would impact that, she said, "I hope not. So far we haven't heard anything that says it's going to stop it." As for when the study might become public, she said, "in weeks instead of many months, that's for sure."
Ketchum said the study had sequenced "three complete Sasquatch nuclear genomes" and determined the species is a human hybrid — "the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens."
Sasquatch nuclear DNA, Ketchum said, "is incredibly novel and not at all what we had expected. While it has human nuclear DNA within its genome, there are also distinctly non-human, non-archaic hominin (member of the genus Homo, including Homo sapiens), and non-ape sequences. We describe it as a mosaic of human and novel non-human sequence."
What does that mean in non-scientific terms? David Paulides of North America Bigfoot Research, one of several private groups and individuals who financed the DNA study, said the research makes one thing clear: Sasquatch isn't nonexistent and it isn't an ape. It's human. Or, at least, partly human.
"It falls in the realm of human," Paulides said. "It has a human mother we can identify, that somehow evolved in the last 15,000 years, but in an unusual aspect of this we can't track the father or find out who the father is. Based on millions of DNA strains that exist around the world, the father doesn't exist.
"The only species we can identify is human. The male that procreated is unidentifiable."
Then what is it?
"Some people out there have said we've used this word, 'angel DNA.' That is not true," said Paulides, a former police officer in San Jose, Calif. "But there is some very unusual aspects to that male DNA that cannot be explained right now."
Ketchum's Texas lab didn't do all of the testing. She said 13 labs — at universities, state-run forensic labs and private-sector facilities — were involved in the process, which included blind studies "and repeatability on most of it." She said the labs tested 109 samples of all kinds — hair, tissue, blood and saliva.
"And all of them had the same results," Paulides said. "If someone pooh-poohs it, they either haven't read (the study) or they just refuse to believe it."
Another Sasquatch DNA-research project is under way at Oxford University in England but is entirely unrelated to the Ketchum study, said Thom Cantrall, a Sasquatch author who hosted an international Sasquatch symposium in the Tri-Cities area of Washington state last summer.
"They're not working in concert at all," Cantrall said. "It's entirely different, with entirely different samples. Some of the samples are from the same people."
The release of Ketchum's findings, Cantrall said, is "igniting a war" among different factions in the Bigfoot-believing community — those adamant that the creature is an ape or gorilla, and those who are convinced it's more human than not.
The early announcement of Ketchum's research "has the ape faction totally up in arms," Cantrall said. "There's so much personal psychology involved here — people who have staked their reputation on (Sasquatch) being ape that they can't back away from that."
Paulides said forensic testing of supposed Sasquatch hair and tissue samples through the years, including early DNA testing, has always come back as human. That invariably led to the presumption that the samples had been contaminated by the humans who had gathered them, he said — instead of what he said has been obvious for many years to some researchers, including himself: That the tests were correct all along. That Sasquatch is, if not human, at least a distant cousin.
Cantrall said he had "a tremendous fear" over what might happen to what he called "the Sasquatch population" over the coming months and years. If the creatures are indeed human, the government will seek to ensure their safety, he said, noting that federal protections for the spotted owl will seem "only miniscule" in comparison.
"Really, the only protection (Sasquatch individuals) need is protection from being murdered," he said. "Because there's going to be that faction out there, too."
Maybe. A September post on a hunting website referencing the two Sasquatch DNA studies ended with this little note: "PS: What gun do you think would be best for when I get my first Sasquatch tag?"