Sinking Their Teeth Into Research

 

It’s pretty dam cool: Through the $30,000 “Seq the Beav” crowdfunding campaign, OSU has become the first Pac-12 school to sequence its mascot’s DNA. The North American Beaver Genome Project will help scientists understand how the amazing Castor canadensis species functions as the engineers of the forest – felling trees, building dams, digesting wood. 

At the same time, the initiative is creating gnawsome opportunities for student researchers. 

With funding provided by more than 100 CREATE Oregon State contributors, including many President’s Circle members, the beaver genome was sequenced with a little help from Filbert, a beaver from the Oregon Zoo in Portland (pictured below). Faculty and students in OSU’s Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing have been analyzing the results, presenting their first findings this winter. 

Undergraduate students on the team include Amita Kashyap of Portland, an honors bioresource research major in just her second year at OSU. Part of Dr. Stephen Ramsey’s computational systems biology lab, Amita is the recipient of the Clayton Fox Agricultural Honors Continuing Venture Scholarship.

“I never thought I would study beavers,” she says, but when she learned about the sequencing project she realized it would be a perfect fit for her interests in medical research. Much of what she’s learning at the cellular level is relevant to human health.

Faculty research assistant Adelaide Rhodes, who works with Amita, notes that hands-on learning experiences like this are incredibly valuable for undergraduates. “It gives them such a head start in the job market. And if they go on to medical school, they’ll already have been published – that’s a huge advantage,” she says. 

The beaver genome will be studied by many future student and faculty researchers at OSU and beyond.

"Research is always about pushing the limits of knowledge. But in this case, the field really is wide open,” Amita says. “Whatever you choose, you’re absolutely the first person to do it. That’s really exciting.”

Six-year graduation rate for OSU students who took part in one hands-on learning experience: research, internships, volunteer service, or international experiences (compared to OSU’s overall 61% six-year graduation rate)

Six-year graduation rate for OSU students who took part in more than one of these hands-on learning experiences

Percentage of OSU undergraduates who can’t afford the added time and expense of hands-on learning experiences