Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Using Leeches To Find Bigfoot


A new paper in Current Biology suggests leeches can be used as a cheap way to track rare mammals. The research found that the presence of mammals can be determined by testing the victim's blood for DNA stored in the leech. The blood may survive a year-and-a-half.

For researchers looking for evidence of Bigfoot, this new study shows that you don't need expensive trail cameras to track elusive creatures like sasquatch. Leeches may not only provide clues about where to look, they can also provide valuable blood samples that can be used to identify unknown animals.

Here's an excerpt from an article that was published about the paper:

[...]
So long as there are leeches that feed on the blood of animals, Gilbert says the method could prove invaluable. It's possible leeches could be used to see if well-known endangered species, like tigers or rhinos, still roam various little-explored forests in Asia.

Leeches could even help cryptozoologists (literally those who study "hidden animals") explore the presence of long-believed extinct animals. For example, most scientists believe the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) has been extinct for decades, but unconfirmed sightings of this large marsupial carnivore persist in Tasmania, Australia, and even on New Guinea. Could leeches, which are found both on land and in water in Tasmania, show whether the Tasmanian tiger still roams the wild?

"Absolutely," Gilbert says, "if [leeches] like to eat Tasmanian tiger. It's something we hope to explore. The nice thing of the method is we can look at a generic DNA marker [so] we don't have to pick a species up front. We can just say 'let's see what mammals are there.' The point being, we could go to Tasmania, collect leeches, look at the total mammals in the area, and maybe hit lucky."

And that's not it. Gilbert says DNA found in the leeches could point researchers to new species as well. He explains: "If the leeches eat the animal, and we sequence it, we will find two results. Either a sequence that is known, or an unknown sequence. With mammals, if it is the latter, it will probably be similar enough to something else to give a hint (e.g. some kind of cat, some kind of rabbit). What one then has to do is look at two options. Number one: it's a discovered species that hasn't yet been sequenced - to check this we find candidate animals, sequence them, and see if the sequence matches. Or number two: it's an as yet undiscovered species. Here we can only give some rough description [...] we can say, 'hey we think there is some kind of unknown cat in the area.' We can't of course be more specific, but that's the point of other methods."

So, not only could the leech help determine whether a species is gone for good, but it might be able to tell us where to look for a new species, and what to look for (cryptozoologists interested in animals based on local sightings and folklore, such as the Sasquatch of North America or the orang pendek of Sumatra, might want to take note).

The leeches tested in the Annamite Mountains were terrestrial leeches, but Gilbert says that aquatic leeches could also be tested for other animals, including fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Of course, the method in every habitat is limited to those species that leeches feed on, but it also appears to be limited to the leech's last meal. Gilbert says that DNA from past meals are quickly overwhelmed by new blood, making DNA from old meals, or multiple ones, improbable to detect.

But leeches are not the only animals that suck blood. Researchers are already working with similar DNA-extracting methods with mosquitoes, and ticks may be next. But Gilbert says the advantage of leeches is that they retain blood for so long. Still each bloodsucker may target its own set of victims.

"We don't now if the leeches have dinner biases, it may be that such biases need to be considered," Gilbert says. In the future, such work may be able to tell researchers even more than whether or not an animal is in the area, it may also be used to answer the important question of how many of these animals are left. Gilbert explains that scientists are currently exploring what blood DNA from leeches may say about abundance.

As for the saola, Robichaud says his group is moving forward on trying to track the elusive animal byway of leeches, calling the work "very exciting." However he adds that the documenting the species, which is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, will still depend on multiple strategies, from camera traps to possibly dogs.

"Until the efficacy of the leech method is demonstrated, and its strengths and weaknesses understood, we'll keep pursuing all tools we have available," Robichaud says.

Such strengths and weaknesses will become clearer as more research is conducted.

"We are kicking off other studies in various parts of Southeast Asia and Madagascar," says Gilbert. "We hope others will too once they realize its really quite easy and cheap!"

It may not be long before the leech becomes key in saving its victims from extinction.

Read more at news.mongabay.com

28 comments:

  1. Excellent post Shawn. The 4th paragraph is obviously relevant to the debates over the Ketchum study and the kill or capture stance. Great site, btw.
    Tony

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  2. Seriously, this sounds like something Ketchum and Biscardi are planning after the paper is released. "Hey BF researchers, each leech test $1,000 bring me a bunch" and " oh look a homind primer match bring more leeches from that area". This is called grasping at straws believers!

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    Replies
    1. you sir are a complete tool. this is a great article. and there is no basis to connect a hoaxer like Biscardi to an expert like Ketchun who is confident with her results. be patient. stop trolling.

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    2. I may be a tool, but you are aware that Biscardi provided a good deal of Ketchums "evidence" right? She and ol Tom are joined at the hip and bank account. The supposed Bigfoot toenail? Biscardi. So I wouldnt count on Ketchum too much at this point. I wonder if Tom sent her hairs from a Georgia freezer?

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    3. Another day in Bigfoot land, another believer crushed.

      +10

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    4. @ Dave: You are an idiot! WHY would Ketchun have anything to do with a liar like Biscardi? She is above charlatan antics like that!! She a reputable research Veterinarian a d about to discover Bigfoot is true! Stop lying and leave believers alone! You have as much proof as we do!

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    5. Sorry to burst the bubble but Dave is right; Biscardi has his hands all over Ketchum's DNA project. He has submitted many samples to her that were (like Georgia freezer) "real". The toenail mentioned was from Biscardi.

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    6. Yes Melba is involved with Biscardi. In fact remember he is the same man who gave her the bigfoot toenail that was legit. But he also said that the toenail track-casts he had were worth 75,000 a piece and of course is famous for fakery ala Georgia Freezer Squatch. Melba has apparently tried to distance herself but no doubt a lot of her specimens came from him. FWIW

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    7. Who cares, Bigfoots are still real as the evidence will show.

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    8. Too funny LOLing!! Like 3-4 responses connecting Ketchum to Biscardi. The next statement is "who cares its real" I fking LOVE Bigfoot believers, too funny.

      Now back to Ketchum Paper or Prometheus movie wait whichever geekier thing comes first

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    9. Would that be the mythical Stage 6 of a Bigfoot announcement?

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  3. Its a great "outside the box" idea, but if a bigfoot is so hard to find, finding a leech that fed on one would seem almost impossible.

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    1. It is impossible unless leeches can suck dreams myth and bullshit, aka Bigfoot.

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    2. Anonymous 06:54AM,
      My thoughts exactly

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    3. Anon reply at 0711, MY thoughts exactly

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    4. There are on Bigfoots - but there are Sasquatches. Bigfoot is dead long live Sasquatch.

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  4. 1. Don't think there are any terrestrial leaches in the Pacific North West or anywhere in the northern states or Canada.
    2. Sequencing DNA is expensive, why go through the trouble on the off chance that the leech fed on the Big Guy.
    3. Publish the sequence Melba.

    Interesting thought, but not realistic.

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  5. the idea itself is about as realistic as Sasquatch. using bullshit to catch bullshit, novel concept

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  6. I just wonder at what point the breakdown of the blood in the leech will be sufficient enough to be unable to sequence it. There has to be a cut off. Also, if more than one host is fed on, would that not compromise the integrity of the blood sample?

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  7. Jesus fucking christ you can not identify a new species from blood found in a leech. By the very definition it is unidentified so you do not have a body to extract blood from to compare it with. Fucking dna dreamers.

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    1. Forget the leeches. The scientist who published a paper in a high ranking journal is interviewed in the article and clearly states one cannot discover an animal using dna alone. Some believers willfully ignore facts like this and seem to think there is going to be an article published in a respected journal that will prove bigfoot exists. Genetics is not advanced enough. To many unknown genes. Thats why most studies use comparative methods.

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  8. 5:54pm, exactly. we have DNA that shows human, ape and unknown yet that is not proof enough.

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  9. 5:54pm, exactly. we have DNA that shows human, ape and unknown yet that is not proof enough.

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  10. what about finding DNA in bigfoots discarded big slurpee cup?
    or how about a bigfoot blood specimen from a mosquito?

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    Replies
    1. True. Then again, if we sequenced the blood from a mosquito that sucked blood from your head we would find nothing.

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