THE ALL-CANA­DIAN BEAVER

Canadian Wildlife - - BIGGER PICTURE - By Kat Eschner

Canada’s na­tional an­i­mal has of­fi­cially been the beaver since a royal procla­ma­tion in 1975 though the toothy ro­dent first ap­peared on a coat of arms here in 1633. It has been an es­sen­tial part of Canada’s his­tory since well be­fore Canada ex­isted. For the First Na­tions, beavers were a source of fur and food as well as an im­por­tant trade good. For Euro­peans who came to North Amer­ica, the an­i­mal’s fur was the pri­mary source of wealth. The beaver, his­to­ri­ans will tell you, is why Canada ex­ists.

A re­cent project by the Cen­tre for Ap­plied Ge­nomics at the Hos­pi­tal for Sick Chil­dren in Toronto has im­pli­ca­tions for un­der­stand­ing the beaver’s rich Cana­dian his­tory and its con­ser­va­tion fu­ture — and for help­ing hu­man health. While the cen­tre and its direc­tor, Stephen Scherer, are more known for their work on hu­man ge­nomics, the beaver was the first of a new se­ries of projects to se­quence the genes of non-hu­man Cana­di­ans. “To know about its genome al­lows us to bet­ter un­der­stand how it all came about: its his­tory, how it re­lates to its en­vi­ron­ment,” Scherer said. “The genome is a start­ing point.”

They started with the beaver for Canada’s 150th birth­day. Al­though the move was mo­ti­vated by the beaver’s cul­tural im­por­tance, Scherer said in an email in­ter­view with Cana­dian Wildlife, it also has prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions for his cen­tre.

Hu­man ge­neti­cists reg­u­larly com­pare hu­man genomes with an­i­mal ones, he said. In fact, one of the first peo­ple to use the beaver’s newly se­quenced genome was a hos­pi­tal bio­chemist who works on heart disease. “He wanted to see how the beaver's elastin gene, which makes the pro­tein in­te­grally in­volved in how the heart beats, com­pares to that in hu­man de­vel­op­ing hearts,” Scherer said. “Most of our ef­forts are on hu­man ge­nomics. That’s what pays the rent. But it ac­tu­ally stim­u­lates us in­tel­lec­tu­ally to look be­yond what we’re do­ing.”

To get ge­netic ma­te­rial for their study, the team turned to Ward the beaver, who lives at the Toronto Zoo. Col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Royal On­tario Mu­seum in Toronto and the zoo, they got some of Ward’s ge­netic ma­te­rial and worked to se­quence it. Un­like much of their work with spe­cific parts of the hu­man genome, which has al­ready been se­quenced, they had to start from scratch.

All the while, the team was work­ing against the clock: a dif­fer­ent team in Ore­gon was work­ing on the beaver’s genome as well. The Cana­dian re­searchers wanted Canada’s na­tional sym­bol to be se­quenced here. They won, pub­lish­ing their peer-re­viewed re­sults on Jan­uary 13.

Al­though 20 sub­species of beaver once ex­isted across North Amer­ica, says the study’s lead au­thor, Si Lok, only Cas­tor canaden­sis canaden­sis, the beaver as­so­ci­ated with Canada’s Hud­son Bay re­gion, re­mains. That’s be­cause beavers were hunted to ex­tinc­tion in many places by trap­pers, he says. “A lot of the beaver pop­u­la­tions liv­ing now are re­con­structed by in­tro­duced (Cana­dian) beavers,” Lok said. “There are no Amer­i­can beavers. There are only Cana­dian beavers liv­ing in the United States.”a

JUST IN TIME FOR THIS COUN­TRY’S 150TH AN­NIVER­SARY, RE­SEARCHERS AT A TORONTO HOS­PI­TAL HAVE SE­QUENCED THE GENOME OF OUR VERY OWN CAS­TOR CANADEN­SIS CANADEN­SIS.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.