When I hear that “scientists are working on a new weight loss treatment”, or “scientists have found that that bacteriophages can help fight the war against antibiotic resistance”, I don’t really think twice about what goes into these research projects. It’s only once I started doing my own inquiry-based lab work that I started to understand some tunnels seemed like they had no light at the end, and how much blood, sweat, and tears accompany the satisfaction of progressing in science.
I took part in the SEA PHAGES program, an international university course that allows you to discover viruses that kill bacteria in some dirt that you collect, purify them and name them, then rip the DNA out and send it through enzymes that chops it up into little pieces so you can examine your “phage”.
Sounds reasonably simple, right?
Well, I collected eight samples, and found no phage at all. Nudda. It demotivated me to keep going, but I would’ve failed the course if I didn’t collect more.
Wrong mind set, I know.
The next soil sample had amazing results: the phage had eaten all of the bacteria I had fed it! I was pretty stoked. But, after I started purifying and pulling the DNA out of my little phage (I called it “Mushball”, after my nickname), problem after problem occurred. When I added enzymes to cut the DNA, my DNA was gone.
That’s when the opportunity arose. I repeated the whole process, changing up little things in the hope that I got something. I ended up repeating it at least seven times, with the last time was the best result I could’ve got! I was ecstatic. So much frustration and perseverance had finally paid off, and the light at the end of the dark tunnel shone bright for me.
Science takes many turns that you would never have expected, and no matter how many repetitions you do, or how closely you follow the protocol to a “T”, you can never avoid a sigh of disappointment, a cry in the bathroom, or a broken piece of equipment you just threw at a wall. You begin to accept this, which makes it so much more exciting!
Who wants to discover something that does exactly what you expect it to?
“We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success; we often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake, never made a discovery.”
That’s the beauty of science.