Monday, Jul 28, 2014 08:32 pm est

Prof explains genetics, Bigfoot

Posted on May 1, 2014 | by Claire Scimeca

Ward Pettibone for WSN

Todd Disotell has traveled all around North America in search of Bigfoot, but yesterday he came to NYU to discuss his research on conservation genetics for primates.

The anthropology professor emphasized the power of modern DNA technology in conservation efforts and explained how sequencing DNA of various primate species better classifies them.

“It’s applying DNA analyses and techniques to try to identify either new species or subspecies, or to clarify to what species or subspecies a particular population [belongs],” Disotell said, adding that officially naming species is crucial for their conservation because they cannot be legally protected until they are identified.

Disotell uses secondary sequencing technology to compare closely related organisms and clarify their taxonomic classification.

He said although there is no specific amount of genetic difference distinguishing two species, genetic sequencing is a method researchers use to determine classifications. During this process, researchers compare the difference between the two species under scrutiny with that of two established, distinct species. If the difference is greater between the two studied species than the two comparison species, then it is likely that they are different species.

Disotell samples the animals’ DNA at a distance to avoid human-primate contact.

Sharon Ng, a junior research scientist at NYU’s Center for Neural Science, said she was surprised by Disotell’s methods.

“It’s amazing how many species can be tracked and discovered just by extracting and sampling the environment around us,” Ng said.

Disotell showcased his passion for and knowledge of sequencing primate DNA in “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty,” a television show that details the search for a hairy hominid called Bigfoot living in North American forests. He created a portable lab in which he sequenced DNA of collected biological samples and found that most of them were bears.

Christina Yeung, who attended the discussion, said Disotell’s research is evidence that technology is quickly advancing.

“It’s amazing that technology has brought us this far as opposed to [believing] the whole bigfoot scam,” Yeung said. “What they have in [the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology] is incredible.”

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, May 1 print edition. Claire Scimeca is a contributing writer. Email her at


  • Bigfoot Gifts & Toys

    It takes a lot of studies to figure out the genetics history of Bigfoot.

  • Steven Gallagher-Skinner

    We drove from Vancouver to Seattle and after we stayed with a friend, he said he has a mountain house – close to Mount Rainer. Where sightings of Bigfoot are common. Never in a million years did we believe that we would encounter anything. After driving for 3 hours, we finally arrived at a posh mountain house. There was room for all of us. Second night, we were all around a camp fire, about a 100 yrds from the house, it was night and the stars were bright. We talked about ghost stories, some made up but entertaining nonetheless. We suddenly heard something huge making it’s way through the woods. Allan had a shot gun, but it was in the house. Two of us had camera’s. Then there was an ominous smell. Plus, I felt that there was something watching us. Then, from out of the woods, a huge rock was thrown and landed exactly on the fire, burning logs flew everywhere. David covered me and quickly got me into the 4 by 4, and locked us in it.We started the vehicle and drove up to the house where one of our group was hit in the head by a burning cinder, he was alright. But then, we heard it in the woods and we all went inside. Allan loaded his rifle, two of us – went after it. (The Alpha Males – plus David, went after it!) They returned with various stories, whatever it was – had red eyes, and glowed! We took several pictures, it wasn’t Bigfoot – but it was night creature, some say it might of been a werewolf – or a spirit of something intensely evil. In the morning, the 4 by 4 was hit numerous times by huge rocks and a log was preventing us from leaving. Allan had a chainsaw and cut it apart. We weren’t spending another night. But I tell ya, it was the freakiest thing I ever encountered!

profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.