Going Through the Motions

Bunsen burner on, 90 μl of phage buffer plus 10 μl of phage. Repeat, repeat, repeat. 10 μl of mixture into 0.5 mL of smeg. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Twiddle my thumbs for 20 minutes and annoy Kushi, my bench partner, with sarcastic humor. 4.5 mLs of Top Agar into the smeg, suck it up, expel, suck it up, expel, mixing it well. Carefully open a labeled plate and dispel the top agar into the plate, carefully re-suck up the bubbles. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Wait 20 minutes for plates to dry while checking my email. Carefully stack plates, tape them, scrawl “SRS” across the tape and open the smelly incubator. Place on the M/W shelf. Wash hands, go home, and take a nap. Come back next class, and retrieve plates. Oh look plaques! It must have worked. Time to repeat the process.

The past couple of months of Phage Hunting has somewhat turned into a blurry concoction of repeating similar lab tasks in hopes of getting similar results that indicate that something is working. Sometimes it’s difficult to lose sight of what that something is exactly. Almost as if by magic results just appear and it’s easy to not fully think about what they mean. By going through the motions it’s easy to miss the significance of what this class is really showing us. The plaques aren’t just little clearings in bacteria, well okay I guess they are, but they’re where a phage decided to set up shop, to live and eat and reproduce. And these plaques aren’t simply just indication of something working, they’re indication of purification of a phage that may ultimately lead to being able to add my phage to a database. And this database may one day lead to the development of new medical therapies to treat disease, or may help an epidemiologist understand the biodiversity in the phage world. Wow. That’s a lot bigger than just some clear spots on a fuzzy bacterial lawn, but that’s what we, as phage hunters, must keep our eyes on.

It honestly feels horrible when you get out your plates, and they look weird. And they smell weird. And they have e.coli, and you want to scream because now you’re behind 3 days and very confused what went wrong. But you just have to keep going through the motions, while keeping your eyes on the bigger picture. Yes I’m getting VERY sick of plating dilutions, but seeing my phage on the database will make it worth it. Knowing that I have made a contribution to a larger scientific community will make the trials and tribulations of this class worth it in the end. You start to feel a sense of ownership with your phage, almost like a puppy, and when it behaves, you feel proud and when it doesn’t, you want to scold it. But in the end it’s best to just keep your cool, go through the motions once again, and remember what the end goal is.

Tomorrow in lab I will take my HTL to do electron microscopy. Suddenly this mythical lab technique only read about in high school biology class has a purpose, and a very important purpose to my phage hunt. By using this insanely amazing technique, I will hopefully obtain a picture of my puppy, errrr excuse me, I mean phage.

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