by Anamaria Penagos
The Electromagnetic Spectrum, a pallet of life, is composed of photons that can be described as packets of energy that travel in waves. In their perfect composition photons are responsible for triggering the vital process of Photosynthesis. Within a plant cell, pigment molecules absorb the energy from photons and pass the energy to nearby molecules. The absorbed energy eventually reaches the reaction center, and continues the process. Thus I can describe my Phage Hunting class to be the photon that sparked my interest in research.
As I sit in my desk I ponder upon the work I have done this semester, and realize the beauty behind every step of the way. I can’t explain how wonderful it feels to know that as humans we can peek into a scientific world of meticulous mechanisms, precise calculations, and minute perfections. A bacteriophage is so much more than just a capsid filled with genetic material, and a tail. It is a complex structure that undergoes clever cycles of replication within host bacteria. Before taking this class, the idea of isolating a bacteriophage from the environment seemed foreign. Yet, as the course progressed my understanding of phage grew. Instead of limiting myself to analyzing the virus’s structure I began to learn about its necessities and how each one relies on the state of its host bacteria. My creativity and perseverance became key players.
My hunting began at the Inner Harbor one afternoon, September 1st 2011. I wanted to find an interesting phage, and so I ventured downtown. I collected my samples and remember approaching the dock master so he could tell me some basic information about the water, such as depth and temperature. He told me he had never been asked this before. I laugh just thinking about it. When I came into the lab the next morning, I proceeded to do an enrichment sample and direct plating, but I was unsuccessful with both. I did not give up though. I continued to search for my own phage, and I found it September 20th. At the time I did not know it but I actually had three distinct kinds of phage!
I can assure you that it is a wonderful feeling when your experiment works. At this point I began streaking my sample, which at the time I called AP -1. This single plate proliferated into three branches of different phage; I did 5 streaking procedures for each until I was certain that each one was isolated. Each step of the way I was careful to record the morphology, size, and appearance of the plaques. Also each time, I tried new streaking and pipetting techniques to try to maximize my yield of individual plaques.
Every time I came into the lab, I remember feeling anxious to move to a new step and begin a new technique, but I knew I could not advance without being sure of my results. In a sense our work is like building a bridge, if the bases are not strong the structure will not hold. If you are not sure you have a single phage, you will never have a pure harvested colony. I proceeded to titer all of my three samples but as I received my contaminated results, I decided to choose one and continue to titer once again. I am recently in my second attempt to calculate a high titer assay.
Overall, this so-called journey has been challenging and rewarding at the same time. The extra hours I have spent in the lab have not been in vain for I will be able to apply all of the techniques I have learned this semester in other labs.
Although I did not make it to the Phage Olympics I know that the information I will continue to gather will be laid to serve as the foundation of a bridge that will span the gap between understanding how mycobacteriophages function and discovering new ways to use these organisms in the medical field.
I would like to finish with a quote by Sir Cyril Herman Hinshelwood:
“Science is an imaginative adventure of the mind seeking truth in a world of mystery.”