Sequencing the Beaver

A beaver on exhibit at the Oregon Zoo. (Photo: Kristine Torres, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo)
A beaver on exhibit at the Oregon Zoo. (Photo: Deidre Lantz, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo)

IT HAS ORANGE TEETH that grow throughout its lifetime. It chews relentlessly on trees and builds dams that shape habitats across the continent. In earlier centuries, its fur was the currency of empires. While a lot is known about the North American beaver (Castor canadensis), the animal’s complete genome has never been sequenced. Until now.

In partnership with the Oregon Zoo in Portland, researchers in the Oregon State University Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing (CGRB) are planning to analyze a complete set of beaver DNA to better understand how the continent’s largest rodent fills its role as an ecosystem engineer.

DNA will be retrieved from a blood sample collected last summer during a routine physical of Filbert, a 4-year-old male who was born and raised at the zoo. Researchers will analyze the chemical building blocks that comprise genes and other parts of his genome. “Sequencing all of the beaver’s DNA will improve our understanding of the entire beaver species, including their amazing engineering and dietary feats and their contributions to stream and forest ecosystems,” says Brett Tyler, CGRB director.

The Beaver Genome Project is the subject of a crowd-funding campaign managed by the OSU Foundation. You can contribute to the $30,000 goal. The campaign is scheduled to run from September 16 to October 30.

More than 120 Oregon State researchers are affiliated with the CGRB, which performs rapid genome sequencing and analysis for studies of human and animal health, plants, microbiology and other purposes.