By Celina Cisneros
Back in pre-school, after a long day of finger-painting and reciting the ABC’s, I would eagerly run home to present to my mother the lovely piece of art I had ‘skillfully’ painted for her. Of course, as we all know, a child’s art is far from Van Gogh or da Vinci. It usually consists of a few scribbles and undecipherable stick figures. Nonetheless, my parents would always take it and proudly display it on the refrigerator for all to see. Over the course of the semester, through all the ups and downs I have experienced with my phage, I too have become a proud parent.
Jumping right into lab work on the first day of class was overwhelming to say the least. It was all just a whirlwind of soil, pipettes, and phage buffer. Although direct plating proved unsuccessful, after enrichment plating, I was able to see my phage for the first time. However, the journey from the enrichment sample to DNA prep was not easy for me, and many others. I battled fierce contamination, fluctuating morphologies, and inadequate DNA concentration. Streaking my plaques to conclude that I had a pure morphology seemed to go on without end. Overall, I streaked eight times (yes, eight!) before I was confident that my morphology was indeed pure. But perhaps in part due to these struggles, I was even more proud when I was able to see my phage illuminated on the screen after Professor McCaffery placed it in the electron microscope. Honestly, it looked the same as all of my other classmates’ phages, but I was immeasurably proud nonetheless. And like any proud parent, I wanted to tell as many people as possible about my pride and joy.
Calling home at the end of the week, my parents always ask, as they have since pre-school, “what did you learn today?” I usually launch into my recent discoveries in phage lab, sharing accomplishments after a good week or venting to them after a bad one. Although my parents usually have very little idea of what I am talking about, they listen and feign interest as I ramble on about streaking, dilutions, and top agar. On the other hand, as I shared my work with my older brother, he appeared openly disinterested, commenting on my EM picture, “What is it? It looks like a lollipop”. Studying theatrical set and film design, my brother is not exactly the ‘science-y’ type, but still, I took offense to his blatant disinterest. I could not comprehend how someone could find the project that I devoted an entire semester to, uninteresting. It was at this point that I realized how attached I had gotten to my phage and phage hunting in general.
Phage lab was the perfect beginning to my scientific adventure at Johns Hopkins. It reminds me why I love science, biology specifically. Decked out in a white lab coat and shiny safety glasses, I transitioned from mere high school science student to dedicated college scientist. Although, I still have much to learn in the lab, I can now say that I am quite handy with the pipette and am not too shabby at streaking. There is something wonderful about working in a lab, and finally seeing your dedication and work come to fruition.