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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Starchild DNA Results Evaluated with Mixed Results


We diverge from bigfoot a bit to consider another hot cryptozoological project.  The Starchild Project http://starchildproject.com/ has produced some DNA results worth taking a good look at.  They are quite astonishing.  The website gives good background information on the unusual skull found in Mexico alongside a normal looking skull in the 1930s.  The Starchild project has involved many different kinds of analysis over 13 years.  Of course, the central question is what is the genetic origin of the skull?  Is it human, nonhuman, alien, or some combination.  DNA sequencing is just the technique to answer these questions, but extraction from ancient material 900 years old can be difficult.  Elimination of possible modern human contamination can be even more difficult for a specimen handled casually many times since its discovery.  That being said, we took the DNA sequences at face value to verify the interpretations of their anonymous geneticist.  The mtDNA conclusions are believable; the nDNA (FOXP2 gene) results are not. 

 

Mitochondrial DNA


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)  is inherited from the mother.  It has up to 10,000 times more copies in a cell than the single copy of nDNA and hence is easier to extract and sequence.  A short 167 bp sequence was obtained (the complete human mitochondrial genome is 15,569 bp) and put it to the test of a BLAST™ search, finding that it matched human mtDNA but with way more mutations(17) than are found among the human population for this sequence (0-1).  Table 1. shows our results for  aligning this sequence against the NCBI reference genomic sequences database.

Table 1.  Mitochondrial DNA Comparisons




Homo sapiens

LEN(bp)

%ID

SCORE

NCBI Accession

modern human

170

89.41

181

NC_012920.1

mtDNA

Neanderthal

170

88.82

176

NC_011137.1

mtDNA

Altai (Denisovan)

170

88.24

172

NC_013993.1

mtDNA

Other Chordates

Heidelberg Man

170

88.24

172

NC_023100.1

mtDNA

pygmy chimpanzee

170

86.47

158

NW_003870568.1

nuclear

chimpanzee

170

85.88

154

NC_001643.1

mtDNA

orangutan

170

84.12

140

NW_002981604.1

nuclear

red-cheeked gibbon

171

80.7

120

NC_018753.1

mtDNA

gorilla

84

89.29

96.9

NW_004001282.1

nuclear

 

Starchild Project

human

167

89.82

mtDNA

First, none of these are good enough matches to identify a species, genus, or family, or maybe not even an order.  However, they are the best matches for Homo sapiens and other chordates.  The Starchild Project/human match is at the bottom for comparison.  Noteworthy are the facts that no other species appeared near the top of the “Other Chordates” list and that no nonchordates had “significant similarity.”  Garry Nolan thought the sequence looked more like "metabolite genes from bacteria," but we could not match any bacteria.  We see here a homology to the great apes and another hominid (Heidelberg Man).  Comparisons like this should always include closely related species to be valid.  (Note the contrary below for nuclear DNA).  One disturbing feature is that three great apes match nuclear DNA better than mitochondrial DNA, which throws the whole sequence match into question.  More convincing data needs to be collected.

 

Nuclear DNA


In contrast to the above mitochondrial sequence, which shows a relationship to primates, the nuclear sequence matches everything under the sun about equally.  It’s pure junk sequence, intergene spacer.  Foerster’s geneticist claimed a match to the nuclear gene FOXP2.  “Not even close,” says Garry Nolan on the website.  I concur.  Table 2 shows our search results.

 Table 2.  “FOXP2” Nuclear DNA Comparisons




Bacterium

LEN(bp)

%ID

SCORE

NCBI Accession

Xanthomonas campestris pv. raphani 756C,

201

90.05

269

NC_017271.1

Advenella kashmirensis W13003

200

89.00

262

NZ_KI650980.1

Cellulophaga geojensis KL-A

199

88.94

260

NZ_ARZX01000003.1

Pseudoxanthomonas spadix BD-a59

193

89.64

255

NC_016147.2

Vibrio parahaemolyticus 863

195

88.72

250

NZ_AOOY01000020.1

Paenibacillus sp. A9

191

88.48

244

NZ_AOIG01000002.1

Vibrio halioticoli NBRC 102217

192

88.54

246

NZ_BAUJ01000029.1

Pseudomonas sp. CFII68

191

88.48

244

NZ_ATLN01000099.1

Vibrio alginolyticus E0666

192

88.54

246

NZ_AMPD01000075.1

Photobacterium damselae subsp. damselae CIP

191

88.48

244

NZ_ADBS01000002.1

Other nonchordata

mulberry

198

92.42

289

NW_010362274.1

sugar beet

189

93.65

288

NC_025816.1

black-legged tick

198

91.98

286

NW_002562430.1

tobacco

196

92.35

286

NW_008904058.1

Chordata

collared flycatcher

198

93.43

298

NC_021700.1

Norway rat

196

91.84

280

AC_000070.1

Bactrian camel

199

90.45

273

NW_006213244.1

large yellow croaker

199

90.45

273

NW_011323673.1

Starchild "FOXP2"

Starchild vs. SP FOXP2

211

73.5

Starchild website

Starchild vs. SP FOXP2

173

80.3

159

From BLAST™

Starchild vs FOXP2

122

86.1

143

NC_018918.2

Starchild vs best human (from Blast)

193

82.9

197

NC_018921.2
SP = Starchild Project
 

From Table 2 it is clearly seen that the purported Starchild FOXP2 sequence is a poor match to human FOXP2 or other human sequence.  It matches better a wide variety of plants and animals.  Because of these widely diverse species matches, the sequence cannot be coding, and must be called intergene junk sequence, probably from an unknown/unsequenced species.  As before, none of these matches would identify a species, genus, or family.  The best human match by score is even on a different chromosome (10) than the FOXP2 gene (chr. 11).  Alternatively the Starchild sequence could contain multiple sequencing errors due to small amount of DNA and/or contamination.  Much more DNA must be collected and analyzed before a definite statement of its origin can be made.

With a whole skull, researchers should be able to collect enough DNA to do repeatable sequencing.  After all, the whole nuclear genomes of the Neanderthal and Denisovan were sequenced from small bone fragments.   But this takes experience with ancient DNA, and I do not see that in the present investigators.  I do believe that the overall project is worthy of support. 

 

Anonymity in Science


As with Melba Ketchum’s genetics consultants in the Sasquatch Genome Project, the Starchild Project geneticist has chosen to remain anonymous, ostensibly for “security reasons.”  Security of his/her reputation, no doubt.  Anonymity has no place in science, which is self-correcting by crosschecking and debating results.  Anonymous researchers hope to claim fame if their work is accepted, but protect themselves from criticism by remaining anonymous.  This is not acceptable.  It allows those they work for to say that they’re the experts and their word should not be challenged, especially by other scientists from different fields.  The result is propagation of false conclusions, as seen here and in the Sasquatch Genome Project.