Adventures With Phage

By Stephen Witkiewicz

This semester has really been an adventure.  We literally took dirt, and from that, we discovered something amazing.  We all now have our own phage to love, to name, and to cherish forever.  It has been an amazing journey, and we have each had our own phage adventure.  Here is the story of mine.

It all began on a crisp Friday morning in early September.  I spent my day sneaking behind Bloomberg attempting to find a river to get a soil ample from.  I eventually braved the sketchiest area I had ever seen and found a river to get my soil sample to examine.  I then went on to do a direct plating and enrichment from this sample.  When the direct plating didn’t yield anything, I was a little disappointed, but when I got my enrichment plate back I noticed a lot of little marks.  At first I thought it was messed up Top Agar or something, but after a little examination by the awesome Dr. Fisher, I found out they were putative phage plaque! After doing a streak of this, it turned out they were ACTUAL PLAQUES! The feeling was amazing to know I actually had phage.  Stephen Witkiewicz from podunk Ellenburg New York, had actually made a discovery (and a pretty awesome one if I do say so myself).

All that excitement wore off however when the great contamination happened.  One day we walked in to check our streak plates, and almost everyone’s plates were contaminated, mine included.  This was a major setback and took so long to overcome.  Many people with perfectly good phage ended up having to adopt.  Luckily, with Dr. Fisher’s wisdom, I was able to recover my phage by soaking my plates in phage buffer for an hour and then sucking it up and plating from that.  Eventually, I was able to isolate a distinct phage from this.

I unfortunately was a little behind at this point however.  After finally harvesting a high titer lysate, I began to chug my way along like the little engine that could.  I felt pretty good at this point.  I braved behind Bloomberg where no man dared enter, I took dirt and got phage, and I even beat the horrors of contamination.  It sounds pretty awesome, but there was still a lot to do, like finally getting to see my phage eye to capsid.

Meeting my phage through electron microscopy was the most amazing thing ever.  The room was filled with an air of excitement as all six of us prepped to finally see our little babies that we had worked so long to capture and isolate.  We were finally seeing the culmination of a whole semester of work.  My phage was first and it was beautiful.  I could compare my happiness with meeting my phage with what a parent feels seeing their child in an ultrasound.  Ok, maybe it wasn’t that intense, but it still was pretty awesome and there’s nothing other feeling like it.  My phage was beautiful in every way from its long tail of almost 400 nanometers, to its DNA filled capsid.

This adventure with my phage, the Cheno-Witz Phage (named after a combination of my two favorite people’s names Stephen Witkiewicz, me, and Kristin Chenoweth!) was nothing like anything I had ever experienced before.  I can’t believe that as a first semester freshman I was actually able to do research and make an actual discovery.  The journey  was filled with ups and downs, plaques, and contamination, but it was a great one.  Who could ask for anything more?

Here are some pictures of my adventure:

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2 Responses to Adventures With Phage

  1. Beverly Wendland says:

    Hey – inquiring minds want to know – what happened with the Phage Olympics? How did that work? Which phage was sequenced? Are you guys now transformed into Gene Hunters?

    I’ve been experiencing withdrawals from no new blog postings since the end of last semester…

    Dr. Wendland

  2. emilyjanefisher says:

    Jillian’s phage, renamed Manatee, won. We just started on the genome and it is a common type of phage cluster A1. We will try to keep up with the annotation process starting this week!

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