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Student Researchers Sequencing Nittany Lion DNA Genomes

The stately Nittany Lion has served as the symbol of our best for years, and now, our beloved mascot is taking on a new role to help with research and conservation of other types of mountain lions.

A group of Penn Staters, led by undergraduate student Maya Evanitsky, are taking on a project to sequence mitochondrial DNA genomes of extinct mountain lions that once roamed in Pennsylvania and the rest of the northeast (aka Nittany Lions). Mountain lions in the area are long extinct — the last sighting of one in Pennsylvania was in 1874.

The researchers are looking to find DNA information from skin samples obtained from taxidermied mountain lions in order to find out more about the extinct species, but also to assist in conservation efforts of lions that are still alive in the western United States and Florida.

And these researchers aren’t just lion around.

The group, mainly undergraduate Penn State students, has already collected samples from some extinct lions, including “The Original Nittany Lion” that is currently in the All-Sports Museum in Beaver Stadium.

The next step is to start the DNA sequencing, which is an expensive process. The students will complete their project in a “highly specialized clean lab” that is conducive to collecting this type of “ancient DNA.” They are hoping to raise $12,000 for this phase of the project and are taking donations.

Photo: Molly Hyland/Onward State

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About the Author

Mindy Szkaradnik

Mindy is a senior majoring in Print Journalism, Spanish, and Global and International Studies. She is the 12th member of her family to attend Penn State, she loves Bruce Springsteen, and her friends are always making fun of her for talking too much about study abroad. She can be reached on Twitter (@mszkarad) or via email ([email protected]).

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