The Power and Perils of Phage Hunting

Over the summer, when I was deciding which classes to sign up for, I stumbled upon the Phage Hunting class. As a big biology nerd, I instantly knew that this class was for me. In high school, my chances to work in labs were few and far between, much to my disappointment. I was so excited when I discovered this nearly entirely lab-based class where I had the chance to discover a new phage! Many of my family members have asked me what classes I’m taking, and when I say “Phage Hunting,” they give me some kind of odd stare like I’m speaking in a different language. I always have to give a lengthy follow-up explanation about what exactly phages are and how one goes about hunting them.

So far, Phage Hunting has definitely lived up to my expectations. We have so much freedom in the lab; as long as we get everything done and follow proper lab procedures, we can go at our own pace and even decide how many plaques we want to test and which ones. I really feel like this class is giving me a foundation for a possible future in scientific research.

My first soil sample was from a small patch of soil outside of the freshman dorm, AMR II. The direct plating came back negative. Then, our Phage Hunting class took a field trip to a small garden not far from campus where I harvested a small sample from the soil right underneath a small tomato plant. The direct plating from this sample revealed no phages, but the enrichment was quite successful. At first I thought I had nothing, but it turns out, my phage just killed everything! My plates were filled with so many plaques, they were almost all clear.

I hoped streaking from these plates would dilute the phage enough to give me some individual plaques, but I had no such luck. After streaking from four different plaques from my initial enrichment, two came back with no plaques at all and the other two were once again almost entirely clear. On Friday, September 21st, I streaked from one plaque on each of my two plates with a different strategy this time. I did something called t-streaking which generally leads to greater dilution than the typical streaking method. You just make one or two streaks at the top of the plate, another perpendicular to those streaks, and then as many streaks as you can perpendicular to that line.

Overall, I’ve had a great time in Phage Hunting so far and I can’t wait until I’m able to purify my phage and learn more about it!

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