Dirt, Contamination, and a Lot of Mulch

I have to be honest. Phage Hunting was definitely the class I was most excited about before I arrived on campus, and it still is.

Our first assignment was to collect dirt. Procrastination is bad, don’t get me wrong, but I just could not get myself to go start digging up dirt in front of everyone. However, when I decided to conquer my fears of getting weird stares from people who do not know about phage hunting, almost everywhere I looked, there was mulch. There was some sand as well, but I was looking for dirt. After trekking around campus and analyzing the ground wherever I went, I finally found some dirt in the Bufano Gardens! And guess what? There was only a couple of people around. So, I found a nice area underneath a tree and happily brought my finally collected sample to class.

The first lab was definitely stressful since everything was new to me. I could definitely feel the heat from the Bunsen burner as I slowly learned how to plate and tried to avoid causing bubbles to form! And, I learned to wait 25 minutes for my top agar to set because disfigured plates are just not good.

I did not get any visible plaques on my direct plating, but I was hopeful for the enrichment dilutions! Sadly, when I removed the tape that held my stack of plates together and slowly placed each plate on the counter one by one, I saw nothing. No observable plaques in sight. One of my plates was even completely blank even though I know that I put top agar on it the lab before. I was pretty confounded and disappointed. All that meticulous work and no phages!

However, life goes on! I guess this could be an answer to one of those infamous interview questions about how I recovered from a failure. Well, I got up from my fall and went out to get more dirt on my quest for phages!

A couple of other students also did not get any phages, and we were told that there was an abundance of phages near the FFC (a dining hall). So, we headed outside, and I felt no shame as I collected dirt for science. Again, mulch is everywhere on this campus, and we finally found a spot near the side of the FFC, just dug down underneath the mulch, and collected the sought after dirt. We returned to lab, and I prepared my enrichment for Sample 2.

Two labs later, I got my stack of taped plates and started slowly placing them on the table as suspension built up.


I looked at the first plate, and I don’t think anyone has ever been happier to see bacterial contamination. I knew it didn’t look like plaques, but I was so thrilled that I didn’t get blank plates again.

As I went further down the stack, wait for it, I got phages!!!! It was pretty exciting, and it definitely made my day!

I had to take pictures, and I took at least 3 pictures of each phage-laden plate, afraid that one of the precious pictures of my viruses would get accidentally deleted. Now that I think of it, pictures of plates make up the vast majority of the pictures on my phone at the moment. As I was creating my presentation, I felt like I spent forever looking at the plates and cropping the picture to perfection.

As the lab continues, I definitely feel awesome as I prepare plates like a pro (at least I feel like a pro). The movements have almost become like a second nature to me. Of course, today I prepared my MTL, so some new techniques are coming my way. But, I am excited to see where my phages will take me!

Happy Phage Hunting!

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