One more chance…

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.

(Me with my hunting gear outside of Bloomberg collecting my first samples)

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.

(Putative plaques after direct plating and my phage capturing gear)

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!

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6 Responses to One more chance…

  1. emmyjane says:

    update: Derek got putative plaques on his plates on Monday. He streaked them out and got plaques on Tuesday morning. He has phage!

  2. Derek has phage, but still has to clean Parth’s bathroom. My memory of dorm life is pretty vivid, even after the decades —– I’m betting we could run a second project lab off of what Derek finds waiting for him.

  3. derekmacmath says:

    Since I first wrote this entry, the situation has changed a bit. After the infamous contamination, Parth was unable to recover his original phage from his streak plate. Luckily for him, I had an extra phage from the enrichment which I have now officially adopted out to him. The tables have turned!

  4. ppatel35 says:

    If I recall correctly the bet was whoever had phage FIRST was going to have his bathroom cleaned by the other so my bathroom is waiting to be cleaned by you.

    • Parth isolated phage first, but Derek isolated phage to the correct bacterium first. I think the only logical view is that neither won the bet, and since they both lost, they should take turns washing Dr. Fisher’s car for the rest of the year.

  5. Michele says:

    Sounds like there is a great battle going in this lab! Great job! To both of u..phages or no is not just about the discovery but the journey getting there as well..xo

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