By Hammaad Shah
Phage hunting is undoubtedly an experience. What kind of experience you might ask? Well let’s break it down.
Shock and Awe:
So my first task as a “phage hunter” was to acquire a soil sample and bring it into class. Not really wanting to introduce myself to my peers as that kid digging in the dirt, I put off my soil collection…until the first day of class. Regardless I had my sample, not sure exactly what to expect.
I was surprised to hear that we would be beginning our procedure immediately and was admittedly impressed by the quality lab equipment solely for us. While some lab procedures were familiar to me, I mostly recall nervously trying to process every bit of information given to me and getting used to the freedom I wielded along my lab bench.
The reality of the hunt:
Eventually I got used to the phage hunting lab environment and looked forward to learning new procedures. On my third streaking of plaques to isolate a single phage, I learned the not necessarily enjoyable or exciting repetition inherent in laboratory procedure. While at first every day of lab was challenging and rewarding, lab eventually revolved around two things: streaking plates and conducting serial dilutions. I can’t complain too much though because while I may not have been immediately gratified by repeating procedure, in the end repetition in phage lab served an important purpose. Just as in professionally conducted research repetition is crucial in proving the reproducibility of results, in phage lab patience is indeed important.
By this point in the phage hunting process, I have invested hours upon hours making sure to the best of my ability that I am fact focusing on solely one phage. The troubling fact that one round of streaking displayed a new, very clear, “target” morphology unnecessarily sprinkled in some doubt. It caused re-streaking and fear of contamination to become a persistent concern. At this point I address any hint of doubt in procedure, equipment, and results immediately and repeatedly. Basically there is no way I’m willing to undermine all the care I’ve invested and the patience I’ve exhausted on my phage by being careless.
It’s hard for me to characterize phage hunting as a singular type of experience, because it has truly been a roller coaster ride of hopes, fear, doubt, happiness and satisfaction. In the end I know I can definitively say that phage lab has been a learning experience. I just feel like I know much more know than I did on the first day. I would have to agree that while it was not all smooth sailing, actively working in the lab has been educational and insightful. Honestly, my role as a phage hunter so far has been a bumpy one. Not every moment is filled with happiness, but that’s not a bad thing because that’s not really the point. To me this experience is not primarily meant to be entertaining but rather a transformative preparation for future laboratory endeavors.