The first day of phage hunting was not quite what I expected. I expected some boring reading of the syllabus, maybe a review of laboratory safety procedures, and while I sat in the classroom my expectations so far were true. Then Dr. Schildbach came in, and I entered a Lovecraftian dimension. We descended into the lab, where we promptly lost about half of our class, and Dr. Schildbach had to fetch them, and they followed him like little lost duckies. After a quick introduction around the table, we headed to the lab, where we immediately braved the Bunsen burners and attempted to direct plate our soul–soil samples.
Now, a story. I got my soil sample from Wyman Park, right across from the Baltimore Museum of Art. I was intent on getting a killer phage, one that might conquer the world one day and make me proud, so I searched for the spot in the park that was most likely to contain something living. There was a mysteriously wet spot patch of mud in the park where dogs evidently had rolled in and *ahemed* in. Not wanting to make contact with this assuredly alive soil, I jabbed a large stick in it and scooped the mud into a sandwich bag that may or may not have held dog kibble in it at one point. Scary stuff.
Direct plating, despite my confidence that my soil was alive, was a bust. While I tried to blink back tears at my evident failure at direct plating which obviously represented the futility of life and existence, I angrily enriched my soil sample and diluted it. While letting it grow, I quietly had an existential crisis.
The feeling I got when my plates had birthed baby phages is indescribable. I was happy–proud, even, of these bacteria-murdering little viruses. As I cast my eyes over these new plates, I found the faceless, expressionless plaques cute. Obviously, the college sleep schedule was beginning to make me delusional.
Onward to streaking! Overnight, I had become an expert at plating agar, and while my streaking technique was nowhere near perfect, there were no bubbles, and the agar spread out evenly over the plate. Obviously, I was a god. My first round of streaking went beautifully, and I expectantly waited for my second round– so close to purifying my phages. That’s where it went all wrong. I must have tempted the fates– for my second and third round of streaking turned the agar into turbulent jello, and my fourth round (gotten after harvesting the beautiful first round again) yielded plaques that had nothing in common with the first round, except for one plaque that I found tucked away in a corner. I hopefully streaked that, along with some other plaques. The long lost phage replicated– happily, because that hopefully meant that the streaking nightmare would end with the fifth round. Hopefully on to purification.
So far, I’ve discovered the spectrum of human emotion that can be found while streaking plaques, and hopefully am well on my way on isolating a single morphology. However, I’m still waiting for cthulhu.
On a side note, while eating dinner with some friends, I have discovered some truly atrocious puns for phages.
-It’s just a phage.
-It’s a phage turner!