Penn State students are raising funds to sequence the genome of the extinct Nittany Lion, the beloved mascot of their university. The goal is to study the DNA sequence of Pennsylvania and Northeastern mountain lions, which have been regionally extinct (extirpated) since the late 1800s.
The results from this research will help to raise awareness about wildlife conservation and extinction among those in the Penn State community, and to highlight the involvement of undergraduate students in research at Penn State. The results may also help us to answer questions about the highly controversial and recently delisted "Eastern Cougar" as well as differing views on subspecies of mountain lions throughout the American continents.
As mountain lions have been gone from this region of the country for so long, the DNA from the stuffed and mounted mascots is considered "ancient DNA" -- very fragile and can be recovered only in low quantities. Thus, more sensitive techniques and a highly specialized lab are required for processing the samples.
Penn State's ancient DNA laboratory will be using the same methods that have been recently used to sequence the genomes of Neandertals and mammoths!