Spring Semester of Phage Hunting

By Michael Guo

Another season, another phage to be sequenced, annotated, and forever documented in the database of phagesdb.org. Altwerkus was the lucky phage to have its genome sequenced at the Virginia Commonwealth University, and its genome is now back here at Johns Hopkins to be analyzed by us eager students.

After reading some riveting and absurdly technical published papers regarding current knowledge on bacteriophage research, I realize that there is so much we do not know. Aside from the plethora of phages not yet discovered, the ones that have been discovered and are putatively evolutionarily similar in terms of clusters, still display a vast array of genetic diversity. Will we ever discover and decode a fraction of the phages in existence? Will a massive database of bacteriophage knowledge have practical implications?

With 68179 beautiful base pairs, Altwerkus is technically one of a kind. Still, like all of his fellow phages that infect Mycobacterium smegmatis, he is content with finding an unsuspecting bacterium, inserting his DNA into it, and obliterating it in order to propagate his genomic code. Will any of these phages prove more useful? Perhaps one of these phages will provide a novel way of observing viruses, or a cure for some obscure disease. But for now, we students must be content with learning from the mundane and eternal cycles of lysis and lysogeny.

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