I never thought I’d say that I was excited to see a plate full of bacteria. But on the fateful afternoon of September 8, I discovered that my plate was not only full of bacteria, but full of bacteria being eaten by viruses- and I was absolutely elated! Now you probably think I’m crazy, so let me backtrack and explain myself a bit…

Just a few short months ago, I was in the process of registering for classes. Phage Hunting was something that had caught my eye, but as a social science major, I figured I shouldn’t prioritize it. And so precisely at 4 AM in California, I clicked ‘Register’ and with maxed out credits, left Phage off the list. Almost immediately, however, I realized how much I regretted my decision- I really wanted to take Phage. Unfortunately, by then it was too late. Phage had filled immediately, so I placed myself in position 7 on the wait-list for an 18 person class, and well, waited.

The weeks that followed were a whirlwind of meeting my future classmates on Facebook, eating too much In-N-Out, and saying goodbye to my high school friends. By the time I arrived on campus at JHU, I had all but forgotten about Phage. That is, until I received an email on the second day of classes saying that I had gotten off the wait-list. In the next 24 hours, I was on ISIS for far longer than I should have been, trying to deal with scheduling conflicts and trying to decide which class to drop. The one thing I knew for sure was that I was not going to let this opportunity get away again.

So that’s how I ended up here: In the Phage Hunting lab, holding my plated 10^-3 enrichment dilution sample, looking fondly down at the plaques my new phages had made in the field of M. smegmatis bacteria. I hope you’ve realized by now that by plate full of bacteria, I mean an agar plate- not a plate full of rotting food! I was discouraged when my direct plating yielded no results, but after opening the incubator to discover such distinct and beautiful plaques, I think my heart may have actually skipped a beat- and I knew that this lab was the place for me. Even now  T-streaking over and over and over doesn’t get mundane because I know that the next time I’m in the lab, I’ll get to see what new patterns my phages have made, or if there was another strain of phage hiding between the ones I’d been nurturing.

Currently, I’m waiting to see the results from my fourth T-streaks of three different strains of phage. One strain has very small, very clear plaques, and I’m fairly certain it contains a pure phage. The other two strains have larger, fuzzier plaques, but there is slight variation in morphology on both plates. I haven’t experienced much hardship in terms of contamination or otherwise, and I hope I never do. But no matter what comes my way, this lab has been a phenomenal experience so far, and I’m confident that any challenges will only push me to learn and experience more. And so regardless of my major, I know that taking this lab course has been quite possibly the best decision I’ve made so far as a Hopkins student. And who knows- maybe my major will end up changing to accommodate my love for being in the lab. Happy hunting!

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2 Responses to Bacteria….yum?

  1. krangan2 says:

    Phage hunting has definitely been one of the most exciting aspects of my first semester at Hopkins as well! Only a phage hunter can understand the relief that comes with avoiding contamination and the pride that comes with identification of a plaque. The class has shown me how something as simple as looking at a plate of bacteria can be so fulfilling and inspiring!

  2. Alex Rittenhouse says:

    Very familiar with the excitement of seeing plaques. After an entire failed dirt sample, when my second dirt sample was successful, I was so, so excited. (also as a fellow californian I know the struggle of 4am registration.)

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