The Few, the Proud, the Phage Hunters

By Ellen Bruner

What an adventure! I write now from the Central Command Center aka the wooden desk in my dorm room. In less than an hour, I’ll return to the lab for another exciting day of pursuing those promising plaques that so kindly made their presence known from my enrichment samples, as well as for a lab meeting. While I would prefer to avoid public speaking, hearing about the work of others thus far has made the lab especially compelling.

Each of us began with the same hunting tools, a tube and medium-depositing apparatus (namely a plastic knife). While less elaborate than the hunt with horse and hound, we all feel strange pride in our samples incubating in M. smegmatis. Seeing plaques on an agar plate doesn’t seem like the whim of chance, but instead validates some instinctive connection to the soil sample from Bufano Garden (shown above) and lab techniques. On Monday, after I had processed my soil sample, allowed my purified specimen to undergo enrichment, and set my plates to streaking on Friday, I returned to find 8 beautiful clearings from my 10ᵒ enrichment culture and two more on the 10⁻ᴵ dilution. I had performed a streak on the same sample, but there were not any clearings evident on that plate. I am certainly glad to have performed the enrichment, or this phage might have gone undetected.

While my clearings are lovely, I enjoyed seeing some positive results of fellow phage hunters. Across the bench, a classmate found plaques on nearly every dilution of her enrichment; quite the ambitious phage. As we all are asking the same questions (and running into the same frustrations, like agar cracking when an errant pipette nudges a plate just shy of solidifying), some of us today finding plates full of plaques and others hoping still to find that fateful dirt that will yield that all-important phage.

Certainly this process of phage hunting through direct plating and enrichment, as well as the following steps of purifying any putative plaques, is exciting to those now in the class, but I find myself curious as to what made people choose this course. Hopefully some might be interested in commenting to this now or as the semester progresses. I have known for years that I love to learn about the molecular workings of life, eventually realizing that I’m a soon-to-be lab addict with a particular passion for virology and immunology. Understanding the mechanics of infection by bacteriophage will surely enlighten future scientific inquiries both for me and hopefully for others if the phage described over the next two semesters (and an estimated use of 50 more pairs of gloves) turns out to be of some use in quantifying disease dynamics. So, grand ideas: mainly I’m excited to meet my new phage!

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