What lives in the Loch Ness? Is it a monstrous animal, or just a folklore stretched too far by conspiracy theorists? Scientists have stepped up to solve the mystery once and for all.
By creating a catalogue of all the life in the lake, it will become clear if there is or ever was anything out of the ordinary in Scotland's most famous lake.
Stories of there being an aquatic monster have been a part of Scottish folklore since the middle ages, reports ScienceAlert. However, renewed interest in the lake and in 'Nessie,' the supposed monster, took off in 1934 after a strange unidentified creature, that looks like a brontosaurus, was photographed emerging from the water.
The images, known as "surgeon's photographs" are among the most well known and circulated of all conspiracy images in the world. These images, however, were easily debunked and proven to be doctored. Though by then, people's interest in the possibility of an aquatic monster in the Loch Ness had already peaked.
Now, this thousand year mystery is about a month away from being solved. A team of scientists from UK, Denmark, USA, Australia and France are setting out to catalogue all aquatic life forms in the Loch Ness.
The study will involve environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling methods to compile a thorough list of all living things in Loch Ness. Once the list is put together, it will be compared with other lakes in the Scottish highlands, notes the report.
The method is sure to work, say the researchers, because of the biological traces life leaves behind.
"Whenever a creature moves through its environment, it leaves behind tiny fragments of DNA from skin, scales, feathers, fur, faeces and urine," lead author of the study, Neil Gemmell, told the New Zealand Herald.
This DNA can be captured, sequenced and then used to identify that creature by comparing the sequence obtained to large databases of known genetic sequences from 100,000s of different organisms – if an exact match can't be found we can generally figure out where on the tree of life that sequence fits.
If the Loch Ness monster does actually exist, it should then leave behind a lot of biological matter. While scientists are sceptical about finding a large marine reptile, they are still open minded, notes the report.
"Large fish like catfish and sturgeons, have been suggested as possible explanations for the monster myth, and we can very much test that idea and others," Gemmell said, while also pointing out that finding the fabled creature is not the main motive of the study.
"While the prospect of looking for evidence of the Loch Ness monster is the hook to this project, there is an extraordinary amount of new knowledge that we will gain from the work about organisms that inhabit Loch Ness - the UK's largest freshwater body," Gemmell said.