Smegmatis à la Phage

By Noor Khalil

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was in a strange and unusual place. It looked exciting with many opportunities, yet with many rules to observe and practices to adhere by. I was about to add some salad to my plate of half-eaten pasta as the lunch lady stopped me and said “Use a clean plate for that.”. I was confused. Why can’t I continue to add food to my existing plate? Why should I bother bringing a new plate each time I get a second serving? I sighed as I brought a second plate. As I type this, I realize that I have written a hundred words without mentioning Phage Hunting. Let’s skip to that part before this blog gets moved to the Housing and Dining website.

Phage hunting is pretty much monotonous. It’s a fun type of monotonous, though. Each lab, you’re coming closer and closer to archiving a new bacteriophage, being the first to isolate it in a plate, watch it grow and kill bacteria, forming plaques large enough to see with your own eyes, flood the plates and let the phage be washed away into a tube, filter it and see it under the electron microscope, isolate its DNA and cut it with enzymes, watch the cut pieces of DNA move across a gel, forming a special pattern which you “read” to figure out which cluster it belongs to, see how rare your cluster is, and finally archive your little scientific finding for all humanity to know forever.*1

You learn a lot of things along the way too, like the aseptic technique. In the beginning of Phage Hunting lab I was re-introduced to the Bunsen burner. It evoked a sense of nostalgia to my high school lab when I heated test tubes and beakers. However, in this lab they have an entirely new use: blowing away microscopic particles and bacteria from the bench and flaming bottles of top agar*2. Much to the dismay of germophobes, the air is full of things that are pretty much harmless, that is until they land in your plate full of viruses and bacteria. Then they tend to give you weird looking plate which you would have to redo. Just like a bowl of cereal when a bottle of hot sauce falls in, you simply must throw it away.

Other than the Bunsen burner, there are also pipets. As your pipet tip is in direct contact with your agar, it must not touch anything before being used. Conveniently, it comes in a sterile packet. Like a banana from the Fresh Food Café, you peel it from the end and place it into your pipet-aid, holding the peel, with no special utensils or worrying if your hands are dirty. You have to change the pipet every time you plate to avoid getting stuff mixed up.

“Sir, do you mind taking away your plate? We’re closing now,” said the cleaning guy*3 as he wiped down the table. “Ok, let me just finish my blog really quickly.” One more thing: wipe down the bench when entering and leaving lab. Don’t leave any viruses lying around!

I have come to the conclusion of my blog. Since I have written over 600 words, I will end the conclusion short and reward myself with a dinner at the Fresh Food Café, after which I will have a healthy dessert of aseptically peeled bananas.*4

*1: I realize I wrote a three sentence paragraph with a 110 word long sentence. I sincerely apologize to the writing seminars major reading this blog.

*2: Flaming is passing the mouth of the bottle through a flame to kill bacteria and/or viruses. We do not carry anything that is actually on fire (during lab).

*3: The cleaning guy is a figment of my imagination, I am writing this blog post in my room.

*4: or a cookie. I think I have earned it.

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