OSU Takes on Beaver Genome Project

Oregon State University researchers will be working with the Oregon Zoo.

Researchers at Oregon State University have partnered with the Oregon Zoo in an effort to sequence the genome of the North American beaver. The iconic Northwest rodent not only serves as the state’s animal but also as the university’s mascot.

“Beavers are important to the ecology of the region, and understanding their genome is an important part of understanding their behaviors and role in the ecosystem,” said Stephen Ramsey, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical sciences at OSU. “There is a lot of interest in exploring the genetics of wild beaver populations throughout the Northwest, but we lack the reference genome that would really facilitate those kinds of studies.”

Filbert, a North American beaver at the Oregon Zoo, is taking center stage with the quest. Since zoo veterinarians were conducting the animal’s routine physical exam and blood-work panel, they offered to set aside a small blood sample for OSU’s genome project, according to the zoo.

Dr. Ramsey and other OSU researchers traveled to Portland to collect the sample from the zoo’s veterinary medical center and transported it back to OSU’s Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing.

OSU now hopes to extract and analyze DNA and RNA from the sample in order to assemble a draft genome and predict the locations of genes.

“We hope it will help us understand why beavers have some of their unusual traits and abilities,” Ramsey said. “They can eat and digest wood, and they have incisors that allow them to cut through a 3-foot-wide tree in a matter of hours.”

In order to proceed with this next step, however, OSU needs to raise about $30,000. A crowd-sourcing campaign will run September 16 to October 30. For details, visit their website here.

Once completed, OSU researchers plan to share the genome sequence and gene annotations with the broader scientific community via GenBank, the National Institute of Health’s genetic sequence repository.

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