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It has been suggested (Houlihan, 1991) that the consumption of 1 g of protein in a variety of species of fish stimulates the synthesis of, approximately, an equal amount of protein. Although synthesis of protein may account for as much as 40 % of the whole-animal oxygen consumption (Lyndon et al. 1992), only about 30 % of the synthesized proteins are retained as growth (Houlihan et al. 1988; Carter et al. 1993a,b). Thus, one focus of attention is the potential advantage gained by fish in allocating a considerable proportion of assimilated energy to protein turnover in contrast to relatively low-cost, low-turnover protein growth (Houlihan et al. 1993). Rates of protein synthesis in several species of fish have been measured using radioactively labelled amino acids, frequently given as a flooding dose (reviewed by Fauconneau, 1985; Houlihan, 1991). These measurements cannot be made for longer than a few hours because of the decline in specific radioactivity in the amino acid free pool. However, as protein synthesis rates vary during the course of a day as a result of the post-prandial stimulation, and since radiolabelled amino acid methodology is invasive, short-term and terminal, it has been difficult to be certain of the relationship between protein growth measured in the long term and protein synthesis rates measured in the short term. This paper addresses these problems by developing a method using 15N in orally administered protein to measure protein synthesis rates in fish over relatively long periods, the aim being to use procedures that are as non-invasive and repeatable as possible. The use of stable isotopes to measure protein metabolism is well established in terrestrial mammals (see Rennie et al. 1991; Wolfe, 1992), but to our knowledge the only published data for aquatic ectotherms are on the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis L.) (Hawkins, 1985). In the present study, rates of protein synthesis of individual rainbow trout [Oncorhynchus mykiss (Walbaum)] were calculated from the enrichment of excreted ammonia with 15N over the 48 h following the feeding of a single meal (dose) containing protein uniformly labelled with 15N by use of an end-point stochastic model (Waterlow et al. 1978; Wolfe, 1992). Application of this type of modelling would appear to be ideal for measuring ammonotelic fish nitrogen metabolism since, unlike the situation in mammals, the catabolic flux of amino acids through urea is very small. Further, ammonia is excreted directly into the surrounding water via the gills and is not stored for any length of time, in contrast to the situation in mammals, so the rate of tracer appearance is easily measurable.