The World of the Phage

By Brian Lo

October 18, 2012

I never had the opportunity to work in a lab throughout high school and this was something I wanted to change when I first accepted my decision to Hopkins. While searching for courses, I came across “Project Lab: Phage Hunting.” After reading the description about how students would be collecting environmental samples and trying to isolate novel phages, I became incredibly excited that I would get to have some insight into what it was like to work in a lab during my freshman year!

The greatest thing about this class is that every time I step into the lab, I am learning something new about either certain techniques or the phage itself. Through many discussions I have learned how to do things with aseptic technique (minimizing contamination) and have also learned that phages are one of the most common viruses in this world.

The first few classes went incredibly well, with much progress being made both in terms of success with the direct plating and my knowledge of the subject. For the first few classes, we collected a sample of soil (I collected mine from the President’s Garden) and direct plated it onto an agar dish. Following this, I found plaques and streaked from it three times, hoping to get an isolated plaque each time. Surprisingly, I was successful with all three of my streaks which allowed me to move on to the next process quicker!

With every class, it seems like the steps we do to isolate the phage become more complicated. Direct plating and streaking were relatively easy, but the next two steps regarding creating a titer assay and harvesting a plate lysate required many steps and quite a bit of math. My direct plating was successful, and the harvest worked out well too! Calculating the titer after harvesting the plate lysate was quite difficult because it was hard doing the math while understanding the concepts at the same time. Hopefully I did all my calculations correct as I am incredibly excited to start plating these and seeing if I can get some web plates to move one step closer to finding my own phage!

I won’t lie though, this lab has come with its low points. Throughout this process, quite a few of my plates and Top Agar have become contaminated with yeast. In fact, my Top Agar has been contaminated three times already throughout this semester. When this happens, there is nothing to do but to start the procedure again and try to do everything more carefully with aseptic technique. I remember when I was looking at my plates after my enrichments and three of the plates turned orange and one of them turned brown. Those plates had to be taped up and thrown out, never to be opened again.

But beyond those occasional struggles, Phage Hunting has become a part of who I am. Everyday, I love learning something new while doing hands-on work in the lab where we are all trying to achieve a common goal: isolate a phage. Not only has this class given me some experience in the lab, but it has also broadened my interests and expanded my knowledge of the world around me.

That’s all for now,

Thanks for reading!

Brian Lo

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