Sequencing Sasquatch

The scientific community has been abuzz the past few days with the “publication” of the first DNA sequencing of the Sasquatch genome (more on the scare quotes later). The paper appears in Volume I, Issue I of De Novo, and I warn you: if you have any sort of reverence for good web design, prepare yourself for a series of small aneurysms. At the end of the paper, the researchers apparently claim that “The data conclusively proves that the Sasquatch exist as an extant hominin and are a direct maternal descendant of modern humans.”

I say apparently for the sole reason that I have not read the original publication (it is behind a $30 paywall). The quote was reported by John Timmer (@j_timmer) over at Ars Technica in his column  “Bigfoot genome paper “conclusively proves” that Sasquatch is real“, which I strongly suggest you take a peak at for a first hand analysis of the article. Having not read the article first hand, I will refrain from commenting further on the contents of the article itself.

But as a student of genomics, there are some worrying tidbits leaking out of this. Mr Timmer took to Twitter to request comment from anyone with relevant expertise regarding the sequence content itself. A few alarming comments cropped up:

If I didn’t have my own thesis to finish, I’d love to hole myself up and analyze the whole dang thing. Maybe the Sasquatch is more closely related to the hodge-podge that is the platypus?

I sent Mr Timmer’s article to my supervisor, joking that although I have a lot of problems with small sample size in my project (tight budget=terrible, I see the possibility of publishing anything meaningful fly farther away on the horizon every time I open my dataset), n=imaginary (n=√-1?) is a whole new level. The small sample size problem has come up several times in the last year or so, such as in the case of geneticists agreeing to analyze the DNA of Newtown, CT shooter Adam Lanza, and even in the more science-by-the-books case of sequencing ancient genomes, like sequencing the Denisovan genome.

I know the absence of something does not prove it doesn’t exist (heck, in my heart I still believe in Santa Claus). But all logical evidence points to the Sasquatch remaining in the realm of myth. Habeas corpus de sasquatchus?

Scary, huh? Which reminds me – those scare quotes around “publication”: the authors, after being rejected from many other established journals, went with De Novo. The journal is new, it’s about new things, this might be okay…except for the fact that the authors themselves acquired the rights to the journal, AND the website was only registered on Feb 4 of this year, according to this Huffington Post report. There are a lot of issues with science publication right now, including peer review, open access, reviewer selection, and the list goes on. The public reputation of science publication does not need this highly visible gash on its record – at no fault of the established scientific community, but entirely at the fault of a few renegade authors that go against any sort of conflict of interest ethics in self-publishing like this.

All is not lost! As with most notable news events that happen these days, there’s always a bright side, which usually stems from clever Netizens putting on their funnypants. And, in true memephile fashion, I present to you the newest of the geeky hashtags: #DeNovoVol1Issue2

Since I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and I think I’m pretty clever too (it’s Friday and I’m feeling cocky!), here are my contributions:

Perhaps J.K. Rowling should make a new entry for the Sasquatch in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She’ll have to beef up on her molecular analysis of the other creatures, though. After all, Grindylows aren’t that uncommon…

———-EDIT———
Check out Joe Hanson’s (@jtotheizzoe) post here.

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9 Responses to Sequencing Sasquatch

  1. Hah! Someone in lab meeting yesterday made a joke about sasquatch sequencing – I didn’t realize he was referring to this!

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  4. Charles Bootjer says:

    I have noted that there has been little reporting of the fact that Sasquatch now has a bona fide Species name.
    Dr. Melba Ketchum and her esteemed colleagues with the Sasquatch Genome Project have the distinct honor of naming the first living relative of mankind that shares our planet. All other species have become extinct. As evidenced by an enormous number of eyewitness sightings throughout the lower 48 states, Alaska, and all of the Canadian Provinces, sometimes by Biologists or Law Enforcement Officers, Sasquatch, now properly known as Homo sapiens cognatus, is quite obviously extant in North America.
    The ZooBank Data is:

    Homo sapiens cognatus Ketchum in Ketchum, Wojtkiewicz, Watts,
    Spence, Holzenburg, Tolar, Prychitko, Zhang, Bollinger, Shoulders
    & Smith, 2013

    LSIDurn:lsid:zoobank.org:act:40E2FA1F-10A1-4D42-8B02-A007347F1B43

    Rank: Subspecies

    Parent: Homo Sapiens
    Linnaeus, 1758

    Specific Name: cognatus

    Authorship: Ketchum

    Publication: Ketchum, Melba, Patrick Wojtkiewicz, Aliece Watts, David Spence, Andreas Holzenburg, Douglas Tolar, Thomas Prychitko, Fan Zhang, Sarah Bollinger, Ray Shoulders & Ryan Smith. 2013

    Novel North American Hominins, Next Generation Sequencing of Three Whole Genomes and Associated Studies.

    Denovo, Accelerating Science 1(1, Supplemental).

    The Team listed above under “Publication”, includes the following experts:
    led by Dr. Melba S. Ketchum, of DNA Diagnostics in Nacogdoches, TX:

    Dr. Pat Wojtkiecicz, Director of the North Louisiana Criminalistics Laboratory;

    Dr. Douglas G. Toler of Huguley Pathology Consultants in Fort Worth, TX;

    Dr. Fan Zhang of the University of North Texas Health Science Center;

    Dr. Andreas K. Holzenburg, Director of the Microscopy & Imaging Center at Texas A&M University;

    Dr. Thomas M. Prychitko of Helix Biological Laboratory in Michigan;

    Ms. Aliece Watts of Integrated Forensic Laboratories in Euless, TX;

    Mr. David Spence, Trace Evidence Supervisor at Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences;

    and Sarah Bollinger, Ray Shoulders, and Ryan Smith of DNA Diagnostics.

    In my personal opinion, I believe that the next time you may see this list of highly
    distinguished scientists may well be on the nomination for the Nobel Prize.
    I think that it is richly deserved.

    • Jen McDonald says:

      And the runners up for that Nobel Prize will be the mycologists who discover the rest of Spongebob’s friends in Bikini Bottom, aka Lambir Hills National Park, Borneo, Sarawak, Malaysia: Spongiforma squarepantsii.

      Published in Mycologia (a REAL journal, not the tabloid magazine masquerading as a journal otherwise known as DeNovo) by Desjardins, Peay and Bruns, volume 103 issue 5, pages 1119 to 1123. Available here: http://www.mycologia.org/content/103/5/1119.

      Placing bets on which group will discover the rest of the mythical creatures before the other?

      • Beautiful comment, Jen! Thank you!

      • Jen McDonald says:

        Anytime, Andrea. Us mycologists are an exciting group, naming a whole bunch of stuff with wacky and creative names just to get a paper published for giggles. A few years ago a group in the southern US published a paper about a golf ball being a puffball (since so many puffballs are described to be “like a golf ball” anyway). They even declared a type specimen, had a DNA sequence, described it in Latin…
        Too bad I can’t remember the Latin name or where I found the ref. It was a classic!

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