The winding road of discovery

By Alexa Potts

Dr. Fisher’s voice floats over the sterilized lab benches and around the flames of Bunsen burners as she explains the art of streaking to a group of new phage hunters. My lab partner and I listen with pride, as if we are mothers wondering at a child’s first bike ride. But wait. We were there ourselves only last semester. Was it really just a few months ago that I could not tell the difference between 10 µl and 100 µl on the various pipette dials? Did I actually agonize over not making bubble baths when plating, which I can now do without a second thought, carefully maneuvering test tubes of smeg, plastic caps, and TA bottles between my fingers while not letting go of the automated pipette? It seems as though we always knew how to speak of plaques and high titer lysates, siphoviridae morphotypes and phage phams in nonchalant voices; when months ago this was just a baffling foreign language. Yet for all the knowledge and happiness we have discovered in lab there is always more to uncover. Plates are checked and the results are not what we expected. Something new goes awry. The winding road of discovery continues on as we work through different challenges and deal with old enemies (horrendous morphology changes, evil negative controls with plaques, misplaced HTLs). Lab time has its fair share of frustration and disappointments, but the joy of gorgeous web plates and beautiful ten-fold serial dilutions, the pride of seeing the EM images of your very own phage for the first time, far surpass the upset of strange results. And in true Hopkins style, we wouldn’t be telling the truth if we did not admit that some part of us relishes in the challenge of figuring out why certain results were funky and what our next course of action should be. There is nothing like floating through the lab, empowered by the sense of ownership and independence that comes from taking charge of your project and your darling phages. This lab has its own special magic, and it certainly is good to be back.

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About emilyjanefisher

Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University currently teaching biochemistry, cell biology, microbiology, and the phage hunters lab. I grew up in Palo Alto, California, went to school at UC Santa Cruz (home of the banana slugs--our school mascot and state mollusk), and got my PhD from UNC Chapel Hill.
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