By Maria Moncaliano
We are hunters. What do we hunt? PHAGES.
Hunting for phages has been an experience . . . and it has only been three weeks.
I came to college excited to do research. So I signed up for a nifty research class that not only included a project, but actual lessons on how to properly conduct research. Little did I know, I would learn so much more than how to use a pipette.
A lab in college is nothing like a lab in high school. I am thankful for that every day. Twice a week, I am in charge of my research project. I am taking care of my phages as they grow on my plate. It has not been smooth sailing by any means . . . and I have needed more than a little help (a perfectionist by nature, I ask a lot of questions).
But that’s what I have professors and upperclassmen for. To learn from their experiences. And this bunch happens to be very smart and very helpful (thank you).
So let me take you on my mini-journey as I undertake my first research project. It all started with a pile of dirt.
There is nothing strange about a Johns Hopkins student kneeling on the floor, under a tree, in the center of the quad, with a spoon and ziplock bag scooping up dirt in the middle of the afternoon.
Really though, I had no idea what I was expected to do with a pile of dirt, but after 15 minutes of class that first Wednesday, I understood that it was much more than that.
There are tiny viruses in this world that can kill bacteria. There are so many variations that the student who scooped up dirt from Bloomberg probably got different phages than I did.
And I am going to discover a phage of my own.
Sure, it seems easy now. In the moment…it was a tad overwhelming.
That’s what college is for right? To get through those overwhelming experiences and emerge bigger, better, and badder than before. Yes? I think so.
So I put my dirt in a flask, added some nutrients, put in some smeg (bacteria for the phages to kill), and waited for phages.
And phages came.
Not at first…
My first plate was a fail…my negative control was contaminated, unfortunately, but it’s ok!
The first lesson I learned about research is that when we fail, we do not give up…and that is a lesson that applies everywhere.
So I re-did the plates and, to my great joy, I got phages!
You can imagine how happy I was when I saw those clear little spots on my petri dish, proclaiming their presence to the world.
As I examined the morphology, I was reminded of why I wanted to be a phage hunter in the first place.
Because I love science. And I love learning. And observing. And, above all, discovering.
I look forward to discovering a lot this year. About myself, about life, and about phages.
So here I am, a Blue Jay with a petri dish, looking forward to the day she can create a research project of her own.
Until then, happy hunting!