Discover the hidden world around you. Join your classmates and other student-scientists from schools all across the U.S. and beyond in a hunt for phages — viruses that infect bacteria. Isolate, characterize and name your newly discovered phage. Sequence the DNA of your phage and explore its genome. All discoveries are shared in public databases used by researchers across the world as part of a nationally recognized research program. Visit the webpage for Phage Discovery here.
When asked about my favorite class this year, my answer has been, without fail, the Phage Day 1 Lab. While not everyone shares my enthusiasm for mixing viruses with bacteria and growing them on Petri dishes (it does sound a little odd, if you think about it), I can honestly say that joining the Phage Day 1 program was one of the best decisions I made coming into college. This lab provides a unique opportunity for hands-on, exploratory learning in a schedule otherwise filled with introductory, largely memorization-based classes. Don’t get me wrong – I love learning about biology in any setting, including lecture. However, there is something special about knowing that the work I do in lab is not a mere learning exercise, but directly contributes to a growing body of cutting-edge scientific research. It’s a small contribution, but I take some pride in knowing that the phage I isolated, studied, and yes, came to love over the first semester is stored in a database with my name beside it.
The aspect I enjoy most about Phage lab is the hands-on approach to learning laboratory procedures. We read about techniques, talk them through with our professor, and then do them. It was great to see my classmates’ and my growth over the first semester as we developed from unsure, somewhat clumsy amateurs asking questions every five seconds to confident budding scientists who know how to design our own experiments and think critically about solving potential issues. As a Biology major hoping to enter the field of medical research, this course has given me both practical experience and confidence in carrying out laboratory procedures. It also provides a strong base from which to apply for future research experiences at Hope and beyond.
The final thing that makes me love Phage lab is the fact that it is just so much fun. I have become friends with many of the people in my class, where the small size and common purpose create a sense of unique comradery. This is the class where I can share nerdy jokes and know they will be appreciated, where I can ask a peer a complicated question about biology and know they will understand it, and where I and my friends can sing along to Disney songs while performing an experiment (one of my fondest memories from lab). The Phage Day 1 program allows me to further my knowledge of biology in a unique and sincerely enjoyable way. It has become one of the defining aspects of why I love Hope.
Phage Genomics research was my favorite class during either semester of my freshmen year. It offered an experience that no other class I’ve taken has offered: a chance to become involved in actual scientific research and to see if research was the career for me.
The class provides a great opportunity not only to learn biology in the lab, but also a chance to solve problems that you may have never experienced before. For me, this process of solving these issues was extremely rewarding, despite being challenging at times.
A main purpose in the first semester of the course is to isolate your own bacteriophage, or phage, a virus that infects a specific type of bacteria, from soil samples that you can bring from home or that you find around Hope’s campus. This really makes your work in this class feel very personalized and individualistic. Even though your classmates will be working on the same procedures, because you each isolate a different phage, there will likely be different steps you take within those procedures, and it can be exciting to figure out what specifically you will need to do in order to isolate your phage and its DNA.
The second semester of the course is a bit different. Instead of doing wet lab work, you will be primarily work in the computer lab in order to analyze the genomes of several phages that you or your classmates had isolated in the previous semester. This work, though challenging at first, is extremely rewarding when you make a new discovery or make a breakthrough on a problem that had previously stumped you.
Phage was a big reason that I decided to come to Hope College. The opportunities it provides were a draw for me, and I am not disappointed with my decision to take this course. I now am looking forward to a career in biology research, and I am actively involved in summer research in biology. If you’re looking for a chance to do real scientific research straight out of the gate when you get to college, I cannot recommend taking Phage enough to anyone interested in biology.
Two Friday’s ago, half of the Phage class took to the road to do some TEM work on our mycobacteriophage samples. Having been in the lab a lot and doing computer work, it was fun to get out to a new location with people we have been familiar with all year.
It was actually a really fun day, and if you get the chance to check Twitter, search for my hashtag #phaginghard and you’ll find a stream of tweets from the hilarious things that were said throughout the day.
If you’re not familiar with TEM, its a Transmission electron Microscope. It takes up a small room and works as a beam of electrons is transmitted through a thin specimen. After putting our phage lysates on a thin copper mesh circle (that is really tiny), we loaded our discs into the apparatus and got some cutesy little pictures of our phage! My sample only had four phage, so the microscope operator was giving me a hard time about causing him a lot of work ;).
Each imaging session took around 30 minutes, so while each student was in getting their photos, the rest of us were studying for a big biology test and playing Euchre. Overall, it was a great time had by all, and we got a bit closer to our phage associates.
Being part of the Phage Discovery Program has been a blast! On my first day of college classes, I was already participating in hands-on research. I love how I got the opportunity to work as a team and as an individual. Ultimately, this opportunity allowed me to grow in all aspects of my life.
My favorite part of this program is when all of my observations suggested I had successfully isolated a mycobacteriophage. The process of isolating a phage was long and detailed, but the feeling I experienced when my results came back positive was monumental. (The snapshot above shows some clusters of my phage, Zsegetron.)