By Matthew Williams
Phage Lab is a diamond in the rough. The rough is intro level classes. Whenever I am in the lab, it’s like my day pauses for a few hours. All the little things that I need to do that day (like an exhausting, unnecessary Chem Lab report) just fade away. All I am focused on is what I’m doing that day in the lab; what the next step is. I love the class because for a few hours I feel like a real scientist. I try to get tuned in and focused and practice the best aseptic technique so I can have the best results possible. Whenever I run across results that stray from my hypothesis, it’s a challenge to me to try to discover what could have happened to cause these results. I feel so lucky everyday in the lab. I get to work with state of the art equipment in the newest lab building on campus. I never would have thought I would get to use an electron microscope as a freshman undergrad. Also I am surrounded by mentors who are patient and actually enjoy helping me learn and progress. From my experience working in a real lab at the Massey Cancer Center at VCU, it seemed like there was just never enough time to explain concepts to undergrads. But here in Phage Lab, I can have all my conceptual misunderstandings corrected, which the makes the actual research experience much more captivating. I am also immersed in an environment with other aspiring scientists. It is refreshing to see people so passionate about learning and progression in science. The plain observable difference between Phage Lab and my other classes is the importance of time. In all other classes I watch the clock and count down the minutes until class is over. In Phage Hunting, I am so busy and in a different state of mind that I lose track of time and before I know it class is over.
Whenever I get into the lab, I am anxious to see the results from my previous day of work. I never know what to expect. Sometimes, however, the feelings of anxiety can shift to frustration when I see some undesired results. To be precise, this is how I felt during all three of my DNA preps and QC gels. During the first DNA prep, I was a little worried about the yield I would get because my phages were forming such tiny, turbid plaques. When I got the results, my worries were confirmed, I had a low concentration of DNA of around 68 ng/ul. Also the results from the QC gel were unsatisfactory. I had heard from almost everyone in class that the next time they performed a DNA prep they got a much better yield. So I was reassured about my current condition and chance to compete at Phage Olympics. I was very careful when I did my second DNA prep. I made sure to read the procedure several times before I extracted the DNA from my phage. This time I felt much more confident about the concentration and was sure I would get a better yield. My confidence was soon crushed. My yield was no better than from my first DNA prep, it was around 75 ng/ul. Also the QC gel was another disappointment. At this point I really lost hope in my ability to compete at Phage Olympics. I figured it would not hurt to do one last DNA prep as a Hail Mary. The results were even worse. The concentration as determined by the DNA spectrophotometer was even worse in the last go around. With a mere 53 ng/ul, we decided not to even waste the effort and run the gel.
To conclude, I am unable to compete in Phage Olympics because I was unable to extract a high enough concentrated DNA from my phage, Marnie. Although I am upset that I will no longer get to work with what I believe to be a unique bacteriophage due to the tiny, very turbid plaques it forms on smeg cultures, I am still excited about the next semester of phage hunting. I have really enjoyed working alongside such bright students, and I am so thankful I get to continue to collaborate with them next semester.