By Elizabeth Liu
I thought I knew what I was getting into when I enrolled in phage hunting. A two-and-a-half hour lab every Monday and Wednesday? I got this. Digging in the dirt with a spoon in front of gawking passerby? No problem. What I was not prepared for, however, was how tricky isolating a phage could get.
Let’s start from the beginning. I found two morphologies after plating my enriched dirt sample, one of them was medium-sized, while the other was the size of a pinprick. After a few rounds of streaking and serial dilutions, I decided to continue with the phage that made the smaller (and cuter!), pinprick-sized plaques. From there, I tried making webbed plates for my MTL, but a few problems arose, namely the medium-sized plaques that tried to disguise themselves in between my pinprick-sized ones. So I kept a close eye on my negative control to make sure these imposters were not from contaminated phage buffer and diluted a few more times. However, try as I might, I could never separate them from my adorably tiny ones – after a few generations, they would always come back!
I’ve followed the phage hunting manual word-for-word – almost religiously – and yet, somehow, things just have not worked out for me yet. Yes it is a little infuriating, but I also find it fascinating. While everyone’s lab procedures are the same, our results will always turn out to be a little different. This is what makes phage hunting an extraordinarily unique class – everyone can work at his or her own pace. It allows the people who are ready to move on to do so, while the ones who need a little more luck can take more time to revisit the procedure they did last class. As for me, I fall in the latter group, so for next class, I’ll wear my lucky socks and we’ll see how that goes!