Webbed Plate of Lies

By Megha Telur

I can honestly say that Phage Hunting has been my most enjoyable class this semester. Everything about the class just clicked; research, lab work, and biology. I aspire to one day be able to do genetics research at Hopkins, so being in a UTL biology lab was an absolutely amazing feeling. It seems strange to many but I love being in the lab (I also love long airplane flights!) it’s where I feel comfortable and strangely enough, at peace. The wonderful huge open windows added to the charm of my second home, the UTL.

As much as being in a Johns Hopkins lab thrilled me the first few weeks of phage hunting were overwhelming. I found that I was extremely dependent on my lab manual and the TAs to get through basic procedures. With time the process became more and more intuitive and I was able to make judgement calls on my own. I knew when I had isolated my phage,  I picked plaques to streak, and I knew when additional plating or diluting needed to be done. Nonetheless, no matter how much progress I had made, nothing could prepare for the ultimate test of patience: the webbed plate of lies.

I calculated and diluted several times to no avail. My web plates never came out right!!! Many times there was hardly any lysis much less complete lysis of the bacterial lawn on the agar plate. After weeks of no success (I plated web plates at least 4 times) and discussions with Dr. Fisher and Dr. Schildbach , I finally flooded my partially webbed plates for an HTL. It was determined the initial concentration of my phage was so high (I couldn’t successfully calculate an initial titer) that the risk in flooding partially webbed plates was minimal.

Thankfully, the risk paid off in the end. Not only was I able to quantify enough DNA, but I was able to complete the procedures on time. This experience was a quick but effective lesson in independence and strategic decision making. I realized that the manual doesn’t have all the answers and deviating from the standard procedure is sometimes necessary. If there is substantial evidence and solid reasoning creating your own path may actually lead to the best results-especially if it means avoiding a dreadful webbed plate of lies.

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