What phage hunting has taught me about life

–Wendy Xie

“This is too cool! It looks exactly like the phage picture in my middle school biology textbook!” This was the first reaction after I saw my phages under the electronic microscopy with my own eyes. With all the efforts made in 8 weeks, I finally got to see the tiny little creatures that I separated from the soil independently.

 

During the whole process of separating the plaques and purifying the phage, it is true there were a lot of difficulties that I have gone through: contamination happened every now and then and it was hard to get isolated plaques from direct streaking and so on. The most disappointing of all is that, sometimes even though you have done everything correctly according to the protocol, still you don’t always get the result you have expected.

 

I picked four plaques of different morphologies and carried them all through the whole purification process until the third generation, but unfortunately among four of them, two third-generation plates were not completely pure and there were plaques of inconsistent morphologies on them. For the other two third-generation plates, I collected lysates from them but it turned out that the concentration was not high enough so constantly I wasn’t able to have enough DNA when running the gel.

 

I got quite upset when my third trial of the gel electrophoresis still didn’t turn out very well, but after calming down and thinking about it, I started to realize what all these “failures” have brought me. There’s some similarity between life as a researcher itself and the small, beginner-level phage hunting project we are doing right now: It is true that sometimes even though you have done everything right and followed exactly what the protocol said, things just does not turn out in the way you want to be. It is the same in research, or even in life itself. There are always too many factors that we have no control over which influence the results, but still it is worth working hard and wishing for the best. Similarly in life, there are too many things we can’t control but failures in life do not make it not worth trying. More importantly, most times it doesn’t matter that much to get the successful results–what really matters is to learn from the experience. From the phage hunting, no matter whether I will be able to successfully analyze the DNA features of my phage in the end, I have learned a lot about basic lab skills in molecular and cellular biology, have built a lot of friendships with all my peers in lab and have had such a fun time exploring the micro-world looking for tiny little microbes which we barely care about in daily life, and I truly appreciate all of my gains from it. I never realize how much I do love all the hands-on researches, even the “annoying” bench work, until I actually have made a lot effort looking for the phage.

 

Phage hunting is truly my favorite class of this semester. It really leads me to do some real science and discover something new rather than seating in the lecture hall learning things that have been discovered previously. It is true that scientific researches can be tedious, but one professor from JHU once I talked to told me that, “despite the fact that, among all the experiments you conduct, a great portion of them just do not turn out so well, but still it feels so proud of yourself to think that you may be the only person in the world who is doing research in this field and discovering something nobody has found before”. Even not sure if I will be a researcher in the future right now, but phage hunting is definitely a good experience and start-point.

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