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From Banana Slugs to the Nittany Lion

Colleges across the US are competing by sequencing their mascots' genomes, the Wall Street Journal reports.

"Some of the mascots such as the Nittany Lion, named for Mount Nittany near the Penn State campus, are either extinct or can no longer be found near their old stomping grounds," the Journal notes. "Other critters aren't scientifically important, but that doesn't damp schools' zeal."

For instance, scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, raised $21,500 to sequence the banana slug, while Oregon State University researchers raised $30,000 to sequence the American beaver, which its mascot Benny the Beaver is.

A Pennsylvania State University senior has sampled a 160-year-old Nittany Lion, hoping to find DNA to shed light on its relationship to Florida panthers and California cougar. And a first-year class at the University of Maryland, meanwhile, is examining why its mascot, the terrapin, flourishes in brackish water.

"The good thing about this project is, Duke University cannot copy us," Mihai Pop, a computational biologist at Maryland says, referring to, as the Journal notes, one of the school's basketball rivals. Duke's mascot is a blue devil, which, not being real, can't be sequenced, it adds.

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