Good morning blog reading community!
I’m back with an update on the sinister science, exciting experiments and monstrous methods those of us in phage-lab have been practicing in your name and with the aspiration of saving all of humanity from a microbiological apocalypse.
Since I last blogged a blog-post we’ve done plenty of terrible (and very exciting) things and so in the name of cutting to the chase I recommend reading my previous blog ‘A Killing Machine, a Chicken, a Group of Heartless Monsters & You’ as this newer and shinier post will build directly off of the information contained within the older (but not dingier or duller) one.
Okay, so now that I’ve snared your attention what have I been doing? I ended my last blog having recently isolated and named Robyn phage and since then my classmates and I have been absolutely sceiencing the sh*t outta things, not in a Matt Damon, MacGyvering for survival on Mars type of way but in more of a playing with really expensive toys and making genuinely new discoveries type of way.
Details make the story huh? I agree, so read on!
In phage lab, affection for our microscopic killers runs high. As a proud parent the next step having successfully isolated a phage was to amplify the concentrations of said phage so as to extract DNA and send both phage and DNA samples off to the University of Pittsburgh for storage and archiving purposes. Our phage studies here at Massey are actually a part of the SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) programme coordinated by the University of Pittsburgh. The programme has a purpose of fostering a passion for the biological sciences, in part through the sense of ownership participants develop with their discovered phages (“SEA-PHAGES,” 2013-2018).
Now the process of amplification involved a lot of agar plates and hours of work and incubation time but for me this resulted in a very concentrated solution of Robyn phage. How concentrated? Well, calculated roughly, I ended up with a conical-tube containing 1×1012Robyns per millilitre of solution, that’s 1000,000,000,000 Robyn particles per millilitre of solution! Plenty high enough to be archived, a special moment, as it is my opinion that sending a phage sample off to Pittsburgh is significant, not just a milestone in the course work, but also as a sort of graduation. A graduation from phage researcher to a fully fledged contributor to the global collection of knowledge and stuff that we so diligently build as humans.
Fortunately for my life as a nerd, the SEA-PHAGES programme offers further opportunities to contribute to said collection. In particular, having archived samples my classmates and I were authorised to conduct our own independent research, we devised our own protocols and implemented them with the objective of further characterising our phages. As any good parent does at some point I subjected my phage-baby Robyn to a range of different environmental experiences to investigate under which settings she thrives and under which settings she ceases to exist.
(Note, I’m using a female pronoun as a reflection of Robyn’s given name and not as a reflection of Robyn’s gender, Robyn as a virus is genderless).
Working with two fellow classmates we trialled our phages with exposure to different temperatures twice and the results are graphed as follows:
The vertical axis in both graphs represents the concentration of our phages whereas the horizontal axis (again in both graphs) represents the temperatures to which they were exposed. To move right along the graph is to move up in temperature and to move down the graph is to decrease in phage concentration.
So, what do the graphs tell us?
They seem to indicate that Robyn is not particularly well suited for temperatures approaching 80 degrees Celsius and yet more research is needed to draw anything conclusive.
I think I’ve saved the best for last as I proudly present Robyn (quantity x3).
Now she don’t look like much of a ruthless killing machine now does she?
Those of you with a keen eye may have noticed the scale in the lower left corner of the image and those of you with an even keener eye may have noticed said scale is measured in nano-meters, well what does this tell us? That Robyn is very very small, measurable in increments of 10-9meters small to be more scientific.
Okay, but if Robyn is so small, how’d I get the photos?
As much as the photographer in me would love to say I used a DSLR paired with a massive zoom lens the answer is in fact much snazzier. You see to get a picture of something this small requires the use of an electron microscope, equipment that Massey conveniently stores at their Palmerston North campus (a long drive for us Auckland based students) resulting in a van-ride visit to our friends at Auckland University so as to commandeer one of theirs.
Why an electron microscope?
Electron microscopes stand apart from their non-electron harnessing microscope brethren as they use electrons in place of photons (visible light) when producing an image. The machines themselves are large and bulky and contain components that range from lenses of different kinds to an electron detector and an electron gun (Khursheed, 2011). The advantage to such systems is that as electrons have a much shorter wavelength than photons they are vastly more capable for viewing structures and objects that are otherwise simply too small to see.
If you think all this sounds exciting (as I do) just you wait, the next step is to analyse the genetic material that makes Robyn tick. With luck I will soon be able to report on some of the individual genes Robyn carries, their function and their phenotype.
‘Til then, smile and be happy.
The research continues!
- The SEA-PHAGES Program. (2013-2018). Retrieved from https://seaphages.org
- Khursheed, A. (2011). Scanning electron microscope optics and spectrometers. Retrieved from https://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/7094