Technology & Science

Scientists map beaver genome for Canada's 150th birthday

A team of molecular geneticists at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children has sequenced the genome of the Canadian beaver to mark the country's sesquicentennial.

Scientists say technology will also be used to better map genomes of families affected by autism

A team of scientists from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto have sequenced the genome of Canada's iconic beaver. (CBC)

Scientists have a gift for Canada's 150th birthday — and as presents go, it's certainly unique.

A team of molecular geneticists at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children has sequenced the genome of the Canadian beaver to mark the country's sesquicentennial.

Stephen Scherer led the six-month pet project to map out the genetic blueprint that makes the beaver the furry rodent that it is.

Scherer says his team developed a new approach to assembling genomes and decided to use it first on the animal that is arguably the most important in the country's history, going back to the early fur trade.

The genome was sequenced in part using DNA from Ward, a 10-year-old male beaver that lives at the Toronto Zoo with its mate June — a nod to the parents in the 1950s TV show Leave it to Beaver.

Ward the beaver is shown in this undated handout photo. (Toronto Zoo/The Canadian Press)

Scherer says the technology will also be used to better map genomes of families affected by autism, to determine if any mutated genes are behind the neurological condition. His lab has already found that about 20 per cent of autism cases are caused by genetic mutations.

Results of the research were published Friday in the journal G3: Genes/Genomes/Genetics, which carries on its cover a photo of the first Canadian stamp to feature the iconic national symbol.