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One of Montana State University’s scientists involved in the COVID-19 testing lab will give a virtual lecture this month.

Seth Walk, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, will talk about his ongoing research and have a one-on-one interview with university Provost Bob Mokwa.

Walk was tasked to lead the university’s testing lab in July.

The lecture will stream live and for free on Jan. 12 at 7 p.m. A recording of the talk will be available after its initial streaming.

Walk, who joined the faculty in 2013, said it was his first Provost lecture and he considered it an honor to be asked.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity,” he said in an email. “I see the point as a way to highlight some of the amazing activities going on at MSU. Although the focus is on me and my group, no one at MSU is an island.”

His lecture will also include a virtual walking tour of the COVID-19 lab where he will explain the sample testing process. The university partnered with Montana PBS to film it.

Walk said he was looking forward to sharing the work of his lab’s personnel.

“I’m very grateful to have some outstanding young scientists working in the COVID Testing Lab and the basic research lab,” he said. “Our work would not be possible without their efforts and I’d love to showcase their hard work.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Walk’s lab researched the human gut microbiome, microorganisms that live in the GI tract. The lab has received National Institutes of Health money to study how microbes slow or speed up neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and how microbes can help detoxify environmental contaminants like arsenic.

“We’ve also made some very interesting discoveries lately about how long individual microbes live in the gut of healthy people and what factors promote their residence,” Walk said.

He said lab work was different this year, with the pandemic creating challenges. The lab had to adjust its hours and create social distancing precautions.

Walk said they also use a lot of lab animals in their research and changes in the facility have been challenging but the veterinarian and staff have helped to keep the research moving forward.

He said logistics with the testing lab were also hard but the university had help from Governor Steve Bullock’s office, the head of the his COVID task force, Maj. Gen. Matt Quinn, and the state epidemiologist, Jim Murphy.

The university’s testing lab, funded by the federal CARES Act, was able to ramp up its processing capabilities. It was initially contracted to complete 30,000 COVID-19 tests between July and December but by the end of 2020 will have exceeded 100,000 tests, according to a press release.

Walk, who is also a member of the Gallatin City-County Board of Health, said heavy investments, including federal taxpayer money, were made to strengthen the state’s capacity to respond to the pandemic.

Some of the investments have “led to incredibly successful activities such as expanded testing capacity” but Walk said other COVID responses have yet to be implemented in Montana “even though they have been effective in other states and all necessary expertise, technology and infrastructure exist.”

“We should all be diligent to hold folks accountable for how investments have been used and question why we are not doing what we can to stem the tide of the pandemic,” he said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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