By Suborna Panja
After 4 months of nonstop plating and re-plating, my phage “Phalaphel” has emerged! While the idea of discovering my own phage seems exciting, there has been an incredible amount of frustration. To all those future phage hunters out there:
1. Don’t be afraid of discouraging results. It happens to all of us. For example after multiple rounds of streaking to isolate a pure phage, I ended up discovering I was unsuccessful when I plated my MTL. As a result, I had to do the entire streaking process over again.
2. You will become very familiar with contamination. Pretty much everything we work with has to be sterile. Even the smallest bit of exposure to non-sterile items can contaminate your plate.
Once I got past the endless amount of streaking and repetition, all the hard work finally paid off with a successful MTL and then later HTL. The HTL is the key to determining tons of characteristics about the phage. So once I got to this part, most of the repetition was over.
Nothing is more rewarding than using the HTL to see my DNA concentration and then finally my phage! I admit, because of the constant amount of errors I have run in to, I was partially convinced that I would have no phage. I thought that perhaps I screwed up at the last step and had nothing. But to my excitement, my phage was clearly there!
Phages look nothing like I thought they would look like. Perhaps I had this preconceived notion that bacteria looks like blobs of DNA enveloped in some sort of plasma membrane. Well, in fact, that’s not the case with phages. Phages have round heads with tails coming out of them. The size of the head and length of the tail varies per phage; my phage happens to have a 50 nm head, and 230 nm tail. The first time I saw my phage, its round head reminded me of a falafel, hence, I named my phage “Phalaphel.”
Well, the end is not near, it is here. It’s been a long and unexpected journey filled with many scientific obstacles, but persistence is the key to success. Phage hunting has definitely been one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever participated in. The idea of not only characterizing something that has never been discovered before, but also characterizing something that you can’t even see seems a bit impossible. But you’ll be surprised what you’ll find from a simple sample of dirt.