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Covid Testing research at Montana State University

BOZEMAN — Montana State University’s annual Provost’s Distinguished Lecturer Series will continue virtually on Jan. 12 with a tour of the university’s COVID-19 testing lab by one of its leading scientists.

Seth Walk, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the College of Agriculture, has a background in studying microbial ecology, with an emphasis on microbes that have direct impact to human health. While much of his research focuses on the microbes that inhabit the human gut, he and many members of his team pivoted their focus in July to a partnership with the State of Montana to increase the state’s capacity for processing COVID-19 tests.

“Very early on in the pandemic, we tried to identify machines and instruments that could be borrowed from labs around campus, as well as purchasing a few more, to be able to conduct COVID-related research,” said Walk, who joined MSU’s faculty in 2013. “The state then reached out in July, and I was asked to lead the effort to get some testing capacity at MSU up and running.”



Jason Carter, MSU’s vice president of research, economic development and graduate education, center, visits with MSU associate professors of microbiology and immunology, Seth Walk and Deborah Keil, to evaluate equipment in the role of processing COVID-19 sample tests. MSU is providing testing services for the state under the direction of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Photo courtesy MSU Extension

MSU’s testing lab, funded by the federal CARES Act, was initially contracted to process 30,000 COVID-19 tests between July and December. Walk says that by the lab will have far exceeded 100,000 processed tests by the end of 2020.

Walk’s lecture will include a virtual walking tour of the COVID-19 lab, filmed in partnership with Montana PBS, in which he explains the sample testing process. The virtual event will also feature a one-on-one interview between Walk and MSU Provost Bob Mokwa and an overview of the research that takes place in the Walk Lab when it’s not engaged in COVID-19 testing.



Before moving into processing COVID-19 tests, Walk’s team worked alongside associate professor Blake Wiedenheft and other scientists to help test wastewater in communities around Gallatin County for the presence of COVID-19, which helped identify where the virus was spreading in those communities.

Walk’s Distinguished Provost Lecture will stream live and for free at 7 p.m. on Jan. 12 on MSU’s website at https://www.montana.edu/pdl/. A recording of the lecture will be available to watch after the initial stream.

–MSU News Service


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