Scientists Sift for DNA … of the Loch Ness Monster


If the famous cryptid exists, this eDNA hunt ought to find evidence—but if not, scientists will still gain valuable ecological data. (National Geographic)

What is the Loch Ness Monster? What is eDNA? Use our resources to find out.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including today’s MapMaker Interactive map.

This is an inaccurate representation of plesiosaurs—they couldn’t lift their heads out of the water quite like that—but, possibly, an entirely accurate representation of Nessie.
Illustration by Heinrich Harder, courtesy Wikimedia. Public domain

Discussion Ideas


  • Scientists are searching for Nessie using environmental DNA (eDNA). What is eDNA?
    • Environmental DNA, also called metagenomics, describes the study of genetic material taken directly from environmental samples. Environmental samples are usually soil or water.
      • DNA is left in the environment as organisms go about their daily lives: “[S]kin, poop, eggs, sperm, you name it. This bio-schmutz contains samples of the organisms’ DNA, which then get mixed into the surrounding water and dirt. That means a single vial of soil or water can act as an accidental genetic library. Scientists can isolate and decode this eDNA and compare it against a database of known DNA sequences to identify the creatures that left it behind.”


  • Scientists don’t have a DNA sample from Nessie (likely because one does not exist, ahem). So, how will they identify her DNA in Loch Ness?
    • Researchers expect to find hundreds, maybe thousands, of DNA sequences from plants, fish, fungi, and other organisms in Loch Ness. The samples will be sent to laboratories in New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, and France to be analyzed against a genetic database holding more than 200 million DNA sequences. “If we find any reptilian DNA sequences in Loch Ness, that would be surprising and would be very, very interesting,” says one scientist.





Nat Geo: Loch Ness Monster Hunters to Try DNA Search? Get the Facts.

BBC: Loch Ness Monster: DNA tests may offer new clue

Nat Geo: 564: Loch Ness Monster Sighted

Nat Geo: Potentially Powerful New Antibiotic Discovered in Dirt

Nat Geo: Cryptid Cartogram

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