Turning a new p(h)age in this chapter of my life

By Jihae Snyder

“What classes are you taking?” is definitely one of the most frequently asked questions I have been bombarded with basically every day since I arrived at Hopkins 56 days ago.

With the urge to roll my eyes, I reply mechanically, “Chemistry, Chem Lab, Calc, Italian, Shakespeare and His Goddess, and Phage Hunting,” almost as easily as I reply to the other common questions of, “How do you pronounce your name again?” and “OH! You’re from California?? Do you know my friend so-and-so?”

I then begin to count.

You see, I have discovered that a way to avoid getting annoyed at the inevitable next question, “What is phage hunting?” is to count the seconds between my answer and their question . . . sort of like counting the number of “Mississippis” until thunder claps after lightning strikes.

It was a rocky first couple of weeks trying to figure out how to give an explanation, but I think I’m slowly starting to figure it out.

I heard about Phage Hunting when I went to a biology presentation at the admitted students’ SOHOP trip in April of this year where Professor Joel Schildbach was presenting. He mentioned a couple of interesting things of which I only remember vaguely something about penguins and a fascinating class called “Phage Hunting.”

Needless to say, I thought that if I decided to come to this school, I would definitely take the class. I did and I did.

It is hard to imagine that after these weeks of being in the lab, it all started with a couple spoonfuls of crusty dirt from the small lawn lot outside of McCoy.

When I went into class that first day, I was totally lost. Class went over by an hour and I was terrified of what I had gotten myself into.

However, the next Tuesday came and went, and then Thursday, and then Tuesday, and then Thursday, and somehow Tuesdays and Thursdays have become my favorite days in the school week.

As insanely nerdy as this may sound, and I’m sure it does sound pretty nerdy, I actually am excited to get to lab each class and check if my previous class’s attempts were successful. I enjoy being meticulous in my pipetting. I find vortexing fun. I love holding my plates up to the light at the beginning of each class with a small rush of anticipation and excitement to see if my results came out how I intended them to.

I feel like I’ve learned so much in this class, like how to do direct plating (although let’s be honest, it doesn’t seem very effective), how to create an enrichment culture from which to isolate phages, and how to streak (a billion and one times).

I’ve been either extremely lucky, or I’ve been doing something right because somehow I ended up being one of a few people ahead of the rest of the class. This is scary because I have to constantly ask one of the TA’s or professors for help, and I second guess everything I do. Thus far, it has worked out okay.

Recently, having successfully identified and isolated a single phage morphology, I was able to create a Medium Titer Lysate from which I calculated the number of plaque forming units needed to create a High Titer Lysate. From this, I plated several amounts from my 10-4 dilution of the MTL to create the perfect web-pattern plate.

Today, I took my finally attained web-pattern plate to determine the accurate amount of MTL dilution to create plate six plates of phage-infected M. smegmatis bacteria.

If all goes well, on Tuesday, I should be able to finally name my phage, something I have been looking forward to since I heard about this class way back in April.  I’m thinking about Formics, after the highly intelligent ant-like alien species from one of my favorite book series, or perhaps, or perhaps something majestic, like Nicolas Phage. I’m so torn.

Whatever I end up going with, and where this labventure takes me, I’m looking forward to the rest of this class.

May the odds be ever in your favor, and happy hunting!

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