Emily Logan

Cal Poly animal science graduate Garret Guenther was awarded the John Clark Student Fellowship for his presentation on “Development of methods for the production of transgenic quail expressing an E. coli phytase gene.”

The research for the presentation was conducted by Guenther, animal science professors Dr. Dan Peterson and Dr. Liz Koutsos, animal science graduate Lauren Hylle and Iowa State University assistant professor Dr. Chad Stahl.

“Garret was hired to work on this research project shortly after Dr. Koutsos and I received funding to pursue it,” Peterson said. “Garret was a student in my animal science 403 class, and I knew he had the aptitude and drive to be a valuable member of our team.”

As soon as Guenther began work on the project, he knew that he wanted to work on it further and bring as much of his own knowledge to it.

“I was interested and was fortunate enough to work with (Peterson and Koutsos),” he said. “This started as a project I would work on and turned into my senior project.”

Once the presentation was finished, Guenther brought it to the Fifth Transgenic Animal Research Conference in August. The conference is organized by the University of California, Davis biotechnology program, and is internationally known. Academic and industry researchers, leaders in the biotechnology field and government regulators from the United States, Canada and Australia attend each year.

This was the first year that the John Clark fellowship was offered and Guenther was the only undergraduate student presenting.

“The competition was very formidable,” Peterson said. “There were graduate students from many top universities who were presenting first-rate work.”

Guenther said it was a bit overwhelming to hear he was the only undergraduate.

“I wasn’t aware of it at the start, but after I was informed, I didn’t think I had a chance,” he said.

The animal science department has sent undergraduate students to graduate-dominated competitions for two years in a row, said animal science department Head Andy Thulin.

“The quality of our students is just excellent,” he said. “Most of them can do anything they want to.”

Peterson said Guenther’s schedule was strenuous while he was preparing the presentation, but it paid off.

“He was in the lab as though it was a full-time job for the better part of a year,” he said. “This is how he earned the opportunity to present his research, and it is also a major factor in why he won the award.”

Peterson and Koutsos were both pleased with the final presentation and saw it as a good representation of the research.

“The final presentation was excellent,” Peterson said. “It was a poster presentation and Garret did an excellent job explaining the rationale behind the work, as well as the technical aspects involved.”

Thulin attributed Guenther’s and other students’ success to the faculty’s ability to plan and execute projects.

“If you have a vision of excellence you get the people around you to help build a roadmap,” he said. “Our students and faculty are so creative that they just get there.”

Guenther is currently in a doctorate program for molecular biology, genetics and biochemistry at the UC Irvine. His current research is focused on HIV.

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