My first day of phage hunting can only be described as a blanket of confusion wrapping a cluster of bad decisions while clear panic rained down from above. We had recently come back from digging dirt out of the “Phage Garden”, a lovely plot of land nestled almost secretly away, producing homely vegetables as well as, more importantly, phages. I had been pretty up to speed at that point, clasping my little tube of dirt, and was excitedly anticipating what was to come. Phage hunting! When registering for classes, this was the one I had been the most excited for. As a computer science major, most of my registered classes were lectures, sitting in a room while typing away on a laptop. Not that coding didn’t excite me, but the prospect of getting a hands-on experience in a laboratory that involved getting up and moving around was something different.
What I didn’t expect was to immediately be thrown into it. Sure we were given a briefing and a handout, but after an hour or so we put on our lab coats and got to work. I distinctly remember mimicking other students without really understanding what in the world I was supposed to be doing. You see, prior to showing up 15 minutes early for this class, I had never step foot in a laboratory. I had seen a Bunsen burner perhaps twice in my life, and the most complicated experiment I had ever done was probably poke a dead mink that stunk up the single hallway of my high school for weeks (art schools in Oregon don’t exactly offer the most high-quality science facilities).
Somehow though, with the help of both my classmates and student teachers, I managed to at least complete direct plating. I did end up having to do the process twice; the first time, I didn’t know the difference between a pipette and a micropipettor, and ended up plating a little over 1 ml of soil filtrate instead of 50 ul. But at the end of the two and a half hour session, I felt a sense of exhilaration. Sure I may have spilled some agar and used six more syringe filters than necessary, but at least I didn’t set anything on fire.
I relaxed more in the coming labs. After multiple rounds of trial and error on the first day, I knew more or less what the handout was trying to tell me to do. Despite the fact that my plates from direct plating failed to produce any phages, I was reassured by the fact that these results were common, and went on to make my enrichment sample. By the time I got to making 10-fold dilutions, I not only knew what a micropipettor was, but also how to use it. This time, the results were favorable. Plaques appeared! I internally gave myself a high five, proclaimed science to be the coolest thing ever, and proceeded to the process of streaking.
Now here I am, on to my fourth round of streaking. I have currently narrowed it down to what may be two different morphologies of phages: one small but with a clear edge, the other slightly larger with fuzzy edges. Perhaps they are the same type and I am just over-analyzing it, but either way I’m excited to see the results. Despite a bumpy start, this class is by far my favorite. Failure only promotes growth, and I am confident that I can tackle whatever challenges are thrown my way. Besides, science is just so darn fun.