“Gimme a D! Gimme an N! Gimme an A!” by Miriam Jordan. The Wall Street Journal, 3/5/2016.
Now that DNA sequencing has become so cheap and available, many school mascots are being studied. Penn State’s Nittany Lion is a particular example.
The Nittany Lion is a mountain lion that has not been seen around State College in a hundred years (thankfully so, to many people), but there is a 160-year-old stuffed one owned by Carol and Bill Thomas in the nearby town of Bellefonte.
(State College, the town of Penn State, is at the dead center of Pennsylvania, in the valley of Nittany Mountain. Bellefonte is noted for having Pennsylvania’s penitentiary and execution facilities. If you thought Penn State was in Philadelphia, you are thinking of the unrelated University of Pennsylvania, a common mistake.)
The stuffed lion stood in their grocery store for 15 years, but when they closed the store, they lent it to Bald Eagle State Park. The skin should still yield a good DNA sample.
Last year, a senior honors student, Maya Evanitsky, launched a crowdfunding campaign that raised $12,000 to map the lion’s DNA. She took a total of six samples from that skin and five other carcasses and is now in the process of sequencing them. She already knows she has good DNA to work with.
Why go to all this trouble for a probably extinct species? They would like to know if the Nittany Lion (actually, Pennsylvania’s mountain lions in general) shares traits with Florida panthers and California cougars, or if it is unique. Good for her. I would like to know that, too. I have a small copy of the Nittany Lion statue on my bookshelf. The statue looks way better than the stuffed, real one, I kid you not.