The Yeti DNA sequenced


Back to the
page “PICS, MEDIA & CO”

Back to the
introduction page



  1. Yethi vulgaris


  1. Tibet, Nepal

Sequence data

The sequence of the yeti 12S rRNA fragment can be found here


  1. Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution 31: 1–3 (2004)
    (1st of April issue)


Gisella Caccone
Group leader at Yale University.

  1. web page

Georges Amato
He was in Jeff Powell’s lab during the “Yeti story” and he is now Director of the Center for Conservation Genetics and Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA

  1. web page

Other collaborators and sample sources

  1. Peter Matthiessen
    Is a two-time National Book Award-winning American novelist and nonfiction writer as well as an environmental activist. He frequently focuses on American Indian issues and history, as in his detailed study of the Leonard Peltier case, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. In November 2008, at age 81, he received his second National Book Award for “Shadow Country”, an 890-page revision of a trilogy of novels he released in the 1990s. His first National Book Award was won in 1980 for “The Snow Leopard”. His story “Travelin' Man” was adapted into the film “The Young One” by Luis Buñuel.

  2. Check Wikipedia


Molecular phylogenetic analysis of mtDNA sequences from the Yeti

  1. Milinkovitch M. C., Caccone A. & G. Amato
    Molecular phylogenetic analyses indicate extensive morphological convergence between the ‘‘yeti’’ and primates
    Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 31: 1–3 (2004)

  2. BulletThe Yeti story ^_^

  3. The study reported in this article represents scientifically rigorous assessment of conflict between the published morphological characters and newly obtained molecular characters for species of questionable validity. More significantly, however, this study indicates that evolutionary biologists need to retain sense of humor in their efforts to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships.
    Happy April Fool's Day !

  4. Note that the story reported below is perfectly true, there is NOTHING made up.


It is generally considered that most of our planet has been so extensively explored that very few, if any, living species of large vertebrate still remain to be discovered and described. Hence, the stir created by the recent description of ungulate species from Asia (Amato et al., 1998; Dung et al., 1993) is quite understandable. One large, probably mammalian, species that has been repeatedly sighted in Nepal -- but for which no definitive remains or observable data has been collected so far -- is the ‘‘ye-the,’’ better known under the name “yeti” or “Abominable Snowman.” Very little is known about the morphology of this enigmatic creature. The famous writer Peter Matthiessen notes that “The yeti is described most often as a hairy, reddish-brown creature with a rigid crown that gives it a pointed-head appearance; in size, despite the
outsized foot has been likened to an adolescent boy, though much larger individuals have been reported” (Matthiessen, 1979, p. 119). This is perfectly consistent with the description given earlier by Haddock: “A sort of enormous monkey ...with a huge head like a coconut” (Hergé, 1960, p. 37).
Behavioural data on the yeti is also very scarce but it probably can walk upright on its hind legs and it has been recorded stealing bottles of whisky from camp sites—a behaviour that has made it called “the pithecanthropic pickpocket” (Hergé, 1960, p. 37).
It is usually assumed that the yeti is a primate while its exact phylogenetic position within that mammalian order is controversial. For example, a theory holds that “the yeti is a relict species of early man, driven long ago into dense forests by the surge of Homo sapiens that presumably eliminated more primitive hominids ... its strange bestial foot ...would seem to place it closer to a sub-hominid such as Gigantopithecus or even to apes ...” (Matthiessen, 1979, pp. 120–121).

In 1992, Peter Matthiessen and photographer Thomas Laird were the first Westerners in over three decades to visit a remote region in the northernmost Himalaya. Located close to the boarder of Tibet, Sao Kohla is a mysterious valley outside of the main city of Lo Monthang. Here Matthiessen, Laird, and their Nepalese colleagues came upon some unusual foot prints in the snow, and were informed by locals that they were the prints of the Mehti (the local name for Yeti). Near a river at the bottom of the gorge, samples of twisted hair were recovered which were clearly identified as Mehti hair by their local guides (Matthiessen, 1995, p. 75–80). We were asked to analyze these samples, but first had to agree that any identification of a “new species” would have to be reported to the government of Nepal before publication.


Using modified oligonucleotide primers L1091 and H1478 (Kocher et al., 1989), we successfully amplified and directly sequenced a fragment of the mitochondrial 12S ribosomal RNA gene (12S rRNA) from that sample. Surprisingly, comparison of the yeti sequence against all available 12S rRNA sequences identified a higher degree of similarity with a specific group of ungulates than with primates. We therefore aligned, using SOAP (Loytynoja and Milinkovitch, 2001), 12S rRNA sequences from representatives of that order together with the orthologous sequences from yeti, human, chimpanzee, gorilla, and two representatives of the order cetartiodactyla (e.g., Gatesy et al., 1999). The final alignment included 417 characters and is available, upon request, from the authors. The data set was phylogenetically analysed using maximum parsimony (MP), maximum likelihood (ML), and neighbour joining (NJ). We estimated the reliability of the various inferred clades by bootstrapping (Felsenstein, 1985) and Bremer support (Bremer, 1994). All analyses were performed with PAUP* (v4.0b4a) (Swofford, 1997). Fig. 1 shows the consensus between the NJ and MP 50% consensus bootstrap trees. The yeti sequence is separated from the hominid group by several nodes supported by high bootstrap values. Constraining the Yeti sequence to cluster with the hominids requires an increase in tree length estimated significant (p<0:05) under KH tests (Kishino & Hasegawa, 1989). ML analyses yielded trees where the yeti is separated from hominids by the same branches as in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1. Phylogenetic position of the yeti inferred from 12S rRNA data. Summary cladogram indicating branches supported by bootstrapping both under NJ (ML distances, transition/transvertion ratio estimated from the data) and unweighted MP. Bootstrap values >50% (MP–NJ) and branch lengths (NJ) are indicated above and below the branches, respectively. The yeti is separated from hominids by several well-supported branches (in bold). The species used are (GenBank Accession No. [binomial name, common name, mammalian order]): X79547 [Equus caballus, horse, Perissodactyla], U02581 [Equus caballus, horse, Perissodactyla], X97337 [Equus asinus, donkey, Perissodactyla], Z18644 [Equus hemionus, Kulan or wild ass, Perissodactyla], X86943 [Equus grevyi, Grevy's zebra, Perissodactyla], AF191837 [Diceros bicornis, black rhinoceros, Perissodactyla], X97336 [Rhinoceros unicornis, greater Indian rhinoceros, Perissodactyla], Y07726 [Ceratotherium simum, white rhinoceros, Perissodactyla], AF038012 [Tapirus pinchaque, tapir, Perissodactyla], D38112 [Homo sapien, human, primate], D38113 [Pan troglodites, chimpanzee, primate], D38114 [Gorilla gorilla, gorilla, primate]; outgroup taxa are Z18666 [Physeter macrocephalus, Giant Sperm Whale, Cetartiodactyla] and J01394 [Bos taurus, bovine, Cetartiodactyla]. The 12S sequence from the Yeti has been deposited at EMBL. The analysed data set, available on request, is the strict consensus among the alignments obtained with 15 different sets of alignment parameters (weighted matrix, gap penalties from 13 to 17 by steps of 2, and extension penalties from 5 to 9 by steps of 2).


All our analyses clearly indicate that the yeti is nested several nodes within a specific ungulate group (i.e., the perissodactyls, cf. Fig. 1) and, more specifically, forms a subclade with sequences U02581 and X79547 (cf. figure legend). These results demonstrate that extensive morphological convergences have occurred between the yeti and primates.

It is quite remarkable that Haddock already identified many years ago the correct phylogenetic position of the yeti (despite he had seen only footprints in the snow) when he yelled at it “You odd-toed ungulate !” (Hergé, 1960, p. 26).

Sequence data

  1. The sequence of the yeti 12S rRNA fragment can be found HERE.


  1. Amato, G., Rabinowitz, A., Egan, M.G., 1998. Animal Conservation 2, 1–7.

  2. Bremer, K., 1994. Cladistics 10, 295–304.

  3. Dung, V.V. et al., 1993. Nature 363, 443–445.

  4. Felsenstein, 1985. J. Evolution 39, 783–791.

  5. Gatesy, J., Milinkovitch, M.C., Waddell, V., Stanhope, M., 1999. Syst. Biol. 48, 6–20.

  6. Hergé, 1960. Tintin in Tibet, English version. Casterman, Belgium.

  7. Kishino, H., Hasegawa, M.J., 1989. Mol. Evol. 29, 170–179.

  8. Kocher, T.D. et al., 1989. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 86, 6196–6200.

  9. Loytynoja, A., Milinkovitch, M.C., 2001. Bioinformatics 17, 573–574.

  10. Matthiessen, P., 1979. The Snow Leopard. Chatto & Windus, UK.

  11. Matthiessen, P., Laird, T., 1995. East of Lo Monthong: In the Land of the Mustang. Shambhala Publishers, Boston, MA.

  12. Swofford, D.L., 1997. PAUP*: Phylogenetic Analysis Using Parsimony (and other methods), version 4.0b4a. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA.

  1. Check some reactions to the paper HERE

  2. The picture on the right shows Tibetan Monks visiting the exhibition "Gènes et Ethique" (Genes and Ethic) at the "Parc d'Aventures Scientifiques (PASS)" (Science Adventure Park) in Frameries, Belgium.
    The skeleton in the background is a fake Yeti skeleton which is part of the exhibit explaining the story above, i.e., how molecular genetics allowed identifying the supposed yeti hair sample to be of horse origin ^_^

  3. Check also ‘Predicting the distribution of Sasquatch in western North America: anything goes with ecological niche modelling’ by J. D. Lozier, P. Aniello and M. J. Hickerson in Journal of Biogeography 36 (2009): 1623-1627.


Continue with page 2

Back to top