A Study in Phage: The Musings of a Novice

By Taylor Veracka

I’ll admit it: my first day of phage hunting was rocky at best. I was a nervous wreck, what with it being my first college class ever and all. Even though I knew what the class was about from attending SOHOP in the spring (Dr. Schildbach’s expo was what made me want to take the class in the first place), I was still unsure of what to expect. Upon entering the lab, I was immediately intimidated by the clean, austere beauty that was laid out before me. Yes, I truly thought that the lab was beautiful. I still do! It was unlike any other learning space that I had encountered, and the fact that I was admitted into its confines, that I was actually going to be allowed to utilize this space so as to further my education, was borderline incomprehensible.

Diffident in my abilities, my hands shook as I tried my best to pipette using sterile technique. I found it incredibly difficult, and didn’t really believe the TA’s when they said eventually it would become second nature. I finished that first day almost an hour after the class was supposed to end, mentally drained, nervous about the next class, but proud of the work I had done.

To my surprise, by the next class I had sterile technique almost down to a T. My direct plating didn’t yield any plaques, but that was okay. I performed the enrichment culture swiftly and efficiently, and actually finished early (a stark contrast from the previous class). I left that day feeling incredibly confident and excited about phage hunting: I knew without a doubt that I was meant to work in a lab. It made me feel more confident in my post-college ideas and dreams.

The actual experiments only added to the amazing experience that I’ve had just far: the first time I saw phages on my enrichment culture dilution plates, I was absolutely thrilled. My 100 dilution plate was rife with plaques (though, as I discovered later, I did not yield as many as much of my peers, some of whom needed to dilute their samples past the 10-4 plates).

The streaking that followed was immensely fun: although I was a bit heavy handed with the streaking stick the first time, eventually I developed a passable technique. Seeing all the different types of morphologies eventually dwindle down to a single strain was very gratifying. My chosen morphology became a relatively large bull’s-eye shape. These plaques had distinct, dark circles on the inside, and a lighter, slightly-fuzzy outer ring. Class after class I streaked from my plates and felt such relief each time the morphologies matched. (I did have a scare once, because upon first glance, it appeared that my plaques had taken on a new morphology—still bull’s-eye shaped, but smaller—but it turned out that there were just so many of them that they were so squished together and appeared smaller because they were right on top of each other.)

It was almost sad when I moved on to make my titer, because I enjoyed streaking so much! But the change of pace is good—I was getting complacent. Currently I’m waiting to see how my dilutions from my MTL came out, and I’m so excited to see them. That’s the best part of this class: no matter what, I always look forward to phage hunting, and I always enjoy it. The first day was clearly just a fluke, and I feel as if I’ve made such strides as far as my knowledge of research. Signing up for phage hunting was definitely the best decision that I’ve made in college thus far. It is so rewarding, and I feel so proud about the work I’ve done.

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