Is This Real?

By Claudia Tan

When I told all my friends from high school that the one class I desperately wanted to take in college was the Phage Hunting Lab at Johns Hopkins, they would give me the strangest look and ask me what phage hunting is. Then, I would proceed in a flurry of words and animated gesticulations about how amazing of a class it is and what phage hunters do. Unfortunately they don’t share the same sentiments about discovering a new phage, but when I’m around my fellow phage hunters I can just feel the excitement coursing through the room like electricity.

For the first day of class, we were required to bring in a dirt sample so we could dive right into the world of phage hunting. I got mine from Rockville, Maryland. We then used the direct plating method to try to get plaques the next class time. The process was so tedious and long at first, since I was taking the utmost care in trying to get everything right the first time. Of course, me being me, I admit I made several mistakes (duly noted in my lab notebook of course) such as not working right by the flame and getting possible contamination of my plates. By the end of the day, I was sorely disappointed in myself and expected to have plates that were lacking in results by the next class. And just like applying to college, the worst part was the waiting period for the results. Would I have anything?

The following Monday when I came in to get ready for the lab, I found that one of my plates actually had what looked like clear circles on the agar. Could it be? Was it real? I actually had plaques? I checked with Dr. Fisher and not only did I possibly get one kind of plaque, but three different kinds! The moment she told me, I wanted to just jump with joy and excitement, just like when I read that acceptance letter from Hopkins. It was just meant to be.

That same day I got the chance to start streaking my plates with the three different plaques and I creatively named them the big and clear plaque, small and clear plaque, and the big and hazy plaque. I used the streaking technique where you take a sterile stick and touch the targeted plaque, then make zigzagging lines across one side, and get another stick and make zigzagging lines down another side, making sure to touch the first streak, and a final stick to dilute it more.

When Friday came, I checked my streaked plates and unfortunately this time I didn’t have any results. So I streaked them again, hoping for a successful first streak, and I tried a different streaking technique. This time, I used the T-streak, hopefully diluting the phages enough to get individual plaques the following Monday. Then came another weekend of waiting.

Monday came with good results. Two of my first three streaks were successful so I moved on to hopefully getting a second streak with them. And one of my enrichment plates from a garden sample had plaques on them too! And from what Dr. Fisher could tell, there were a possibly two kinds of plaques. So I became an extremely happy person, knowing I have a possible FIVE different kinds of plaques. So the streaking continues on through Friday, and will continue until the day comes when I must choose which one will be mine, and I just can’t for what the end has in store. This is real.

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