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Cutthroat trout gene isolated by community college students

Sun., Nov. 10, 2013, midnight

KALISPELL – A group of biology students at Flathead Valley Community College were asked to present at a National Science Foundation conference after they isolated a gene from a Westslope cutthroat trout.

Justin Vetch, of Columbia Falls, and Lydia Sykora, of Whitefish, recently returned from Washington, D.C., where they presented the first-ever isolated muscle protein from the fish, the Flathead Beacon reported Friday. They were among 50 students nationwide chosen to attend the conference.

Their efforts began after the National Science Foundation awarded FVCC a grant in 2011 to help students study biotechnology.

“It was pretty amazing,” Vetch told the newspaper. “A lot of people were blown away that we had the ability to do this at a two-year school. It felt good to wow people.”

They ultimately were able to isolate and clone the Westslope’s myosin light chain gene, the most common protein in animal muscle cells.

The students unveiled the breakthrough results of their class’s research project, “Fishing for Genes,” at the conference late last month. Now, other scholars and representatives from the biotech industry can use FVCC’s data for future experiments.

“We now have the sequence because of our work, and it can be uploaded to the national database and other scientists can access that information,” Vetch said.

Westslope cutthroat trout are one of two subspecies of trout in Montana. The fish can serve as an indicator of the health of their ecosystem, and biologists have been keeping a close eye on the species because it has been threatened with habitat loss and hybridization with rainbow trout and Yellowstone cutthroat.

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