Current Projects

Cellular and Molecular Biology LabKatie-DMA2x1

Bacterial Source Tracking
Sources of pollution in Flathead Lake are tracked by identifying the source of E. coli that is found in the pollution. Each strain of E. coli has a specific signature that its DNA creates in a polymerase chain reaction. This pattern can be matched with patterns of E. coli from many different animals, indicating which animal is causing the pollution. Increased numbers of E. coli have been correlated with increased human usage at Flathead Lake beaches. Tests are being done to determine the source of this E. coli.

Invasive Aquatic Weeds
Flathead Lake has two aquatic weeds that are detrimental to lake ecology. Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) is an economic and environmental problem. It jams boat propellers, crowds out other native plants, facilitates invasive species of fish, and encourages snails (Genus species which harbor swimmer’s itch, caused by a Schistosome parasite, Trichobiharzia ocellata). Flowering Rush is extremely difficult to remove. Experiments showed little or no effect of herbicide treatments. The CMBL is testing samples of Flowering Rush from populations around the Western US and Canada to determine whether they are diploid or triploid, and hoping to be able to correlate its genetics with a treatment plan.

Water Milfoil is an aquatic weed whose invasiveness largely depends on its species. The CMBL has adopted, with collaborators at University of Idaho, Moscow, a genetic test, using real-time polymerase chain reaction, to distinguish the three most common genetic types of this weed and have genotyped samples from Flathead Lake and the Flathead reservation.

Virus Hunting
Students search for novel mycobacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria, not humans) from samples of soil on campus. Students name novel viruses and learn how to grow bacteria and viruses, to purify viruses, and to use polymerase chain reaction to study the viral DNA. Electron micrographs to obtain photographs of the viruses are made through a collaboration with University of Montana in Missoula. This program is also used as outreach to area junior high and high schools. There are many new viruses in our refrigerator that still need to be investigated.

Please contact Libby Rutledge for information about research in the SKC-CMBL.


Environmental Lab

turtle-2x1My research interest is “environmental toxicology”, which is the study of the adverse effects of chemicals/pollutants in the environment. These could be either harmful effects to people, wildlife or whole ecosystems. As Director of the SKC Environmental Lab (SKCEL), students interning with me have access to the considerable analytical resources available in the SKCEL for their research projects.

One area that students in my lab have been studying is the fate and consequences of heavy metals in the food web. In particular, we have been studying mercury in its various forms in lake trout from Flathead Lake, Yellowstone Lake and Lake Pend d’Orielle, and how this metal may be affecting the health of birds and people who eat them. To do this we sample fish tissue, as well as the hair from people who eating the fish.

In a related study, we have begun to work with the University of New England Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center in Biddeford Maine. Our lab is using its expertise in metals analyses to assess if heavy metals maybe causing North Atlantic seals and turtles to become ill. This is a rare opportunity for SKC students to work directly with marine animals on-site in Maine