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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published January 27 2012

MSUM senior known as the 'fish whisperer' finds success as scientific researcher

MOORHEAD - They call Randy Sutrisno the fish whisperer.

The Indonesia native had a lifelong passion for fish before deciding to study biology at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Now in his senior year, Sutrisno finds that his fish hobby helps his success as a scientific researcher.

“He has this natural eye for how to keep fish happy and healthy,” said biosciences professor Brian Wisenden. “It’s an intuitive thing that comes with experience.”

Sutrisno got his first guppies as a 5-year-old living in Jakarta, Indonesia.

His father also had an interest in fish, and from there the hobby grew.

“It’s kind of contagious,” said Sutrisno, 23.

The family has 12 aquariums in their home. In Moorhead, Sutrisno only has room for one fish in his dorm room.

But in MSUM’s Science Lab Building, Sutrisno has three labs full of zebrafish, bettas, convict cichlids and other fish that he cares for.

Once Sutrisno decided to attend college in the United States, a cousin encouraged him to check out Minnesota universities.

Sutrisno said he was drawn to MSUM for its biology program and the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate student.

He also wanted to work with Wisenden, who specializes in the behavioral ecology of fish.

MSUM’s aquatic labs outshine facilities available at some research universities, Wisenden said.

The university recently began doing research with four 1,000-gallon experiment ponds that allow scientists to do large social interaction studies.

Sutrisno, Wisenden and two other students are co-authors of an article that will soon be published in the international, peer-reviewed journal Behaviour.

The research focused on maternal effects on the personalities of zebrafish.

Sutrisno also is studying betta fish and the behavior patterns between mating males and mating females.

He plans to graduate next December and return to Indonesia, possibly to work in aquaculture.

Wisenden has had more than 60 MSUM students published in scientific journals as undergraduate students.

For Sutrisno, a lot of the work has come naturally because of his experience.

“That makes him, as a research student, someone who’s a cut above the others because he has this innate fascination and longstanding passion for fish,” Wisenden said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590