A Great Start

By: Maru Jaime
Oct. 4, 2012

In just a few short weeks, I have seen and learned more about the science world than I ever could have hoped to learn back home. Unlike many schools in the United States, my school had little to no advanced science courses and growing bacteria was as far fetched an idea as finding a phage from my first direct plated sample. Working in such an amazing lab, having my own lab coat, and actually harvesting bacteria has been a dream come true.

I must admit, getting my first plate back with nothing but a thin layer of bacteria on it was slightly disheartening, but it does not compare with the overwhelming feeling of excitement when the first plaque finally appeared. Soon enough I was spamming my friends and family with pictures of my awesome phages only to get back answers like, “eeem so how do you know it has bacteria, it has nothing but holes” and “science was clearly not made for me”. My father was one of the few to understand my fascination, and he shared with me an article about phages and their possibilities in medicine.

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Like so many other students,  I’m at Hopkins looking for a future in the medical world. This article about the powers of phages was a clear indication that I was off to a great start. The inconceivable possibilities of using the skills I was learning could be directly related to the work of other real scientists. (Although clearly in a safer and more simplistic manner).  I desperately await the next steps we will be taking in class as we learn more about our unique plaques, the DNA that commands them and hopefully how our specific strain could some day be useful.

Work in the lab was extremely complicated at first as we tried to understand the aseptic technique while managing new equipment and making sure things were done correctly. Day one resulted in my lab partner and me leaving 30 minutes later than we should have and running to get to our next class. Little by little with time and practice our lab time became more efficient, and we now do what we did in the first day in almost half the time it used to take us.  In part I feel teamwork is a major factor in our increasing utility. Although scientific work might seem like an individual matter my lab partner has proven otherwise. We have developed a great work ethic, and when I think about how automatic my actions have become to his I can’t help but smile.

Now, with the aseptic technique down and an efficient system I have time to marvel at the phages I am purifying, at life so miniscule that I would have never noticed it existed before.  Slowly I watch my chaotic phage samples turn into clearly defined plaques that follow the lines I so carefully traced a couple of days back.

Every once in a while, I catch myself thinking about the phage I have been culturing the past couple of weeks. I think about the protein capsid, the even smaller DNA held within it, and all the possibilities it could one day create.

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