By Derek MacMath
Things have certainly been getting exciting here in the JHU Phage Hunters Lab. People are isolating phages left and right. At the beginning of every class, everyone rushes over to the counter where our incubated plates wait for us. It’s always nice to watch as a few lucky students find the first evidence of a phage on one of their plates. It would of course, be even nicer I was one of those students. Up until Monday, neither my lab partner Parth Patel nor myself had found anything besides putative plaques.
Parth and I live on the same floor of Wolman Hall and we’ve really been doing every part of this project together, from helping each other with aseptic technique to collecting our environmental samples (see the photo above). Despite our camaraderie, we have a little friendly competition going on between us. Last Monday (September 12th) Parth and I bet each other that whoever isolates more phages has to clean the other’s bathroom. After both of our first round of environmental samples yielded no real phages we decided to try again. The next lab period, we set out with even more collection tubes, repeated direct plating, and waited for results that never came. After a total of 17 direct plating attempts between the two of us, we still had no phages. It was looking like neither one of us was going to win the bet.
On Monday that all changed. On Parth’s enrichment plate, there had been this little spot. I quickly passed it off as a bubble, but Parth decided to give it a quick streak test. This streak test originally appeared to be a failed attempt, because there was only one small putative plaque on it. Parth did one more streak test, and after a weekend of incubation he came back to the lab on Monday to find a plate full of plaques. This means he found a phage and I have to clean his bathroom.
But I still have one more chance. As a consolation prize, Dr. Fisher gave me an enrichment sample that originated from dirt from a compost pile in Dr. Schildbach’s yard. I spent the lab period on Monday plating this sample and hoping for good results. So far from what I have heard my fellow phage hunters saying, it seems that most, if not all of our phages have originated from enrichment samples. I don’t think anyone has had much success with direct plating. Because of this, I’m feeling confident in this enrichment and staying positive. But even without my own phage, this class has been such a great experience. Everyone in the lab has been so friendly and helpful. With two professors and two TAs, we are able to get all the guidance we need and yet still work independently on our projects. Now if only my project would yield a phage!