The Search for Mahuika

Tēnā koutou katoa.  Ngā mihi nui anō ki a koutou, ki ngā manuhiri o taku pae tukutuku.

Welcome everyone, again to my blog.

In this post I will be sharing with you some of the mahi – work, that I have been doing through Massey University, as well as intorudce you to my phage friend, Mahuika.

What did we learn last time we explored Te Ao o ngā Huakita me ngā Huaketo – The world of Bacteria and Viruses?

  1. Our health and enviornment can be affected by bacteria in good and bad ways
  2. Antibiotic resistance occurs, when BAD BUGS are immune to antibiotics
  3. Bacteriophages are viruses, that infect and kill bacteria

As we learned last time, bacteriophages are EVERYWHERE and they are very useful in treating bacterial infections.  This is an area that many scientists and medical professionals are reyling on, to provide an alternative to antibiotics.

To find an alternative, we must find or HUNT for new bacteriophages. They must possess the ability to infect and kill the types of bacteria that are infecting us.  This is why I joined the course at Massey University called The Phage Hunt.

In this course, a group of young, ambitious scientists joined forces in the lab; to discover, purify and sequence, undiscovered bacteriophages.

Photo on 6-2-17 at 12.09 PM #2 2 (1)

The Phage Whanau

How do you hunt for viruses that infect bacteria?

We look in places where there is a lot of bacteria!  For example taepu – soil.

My hunt began by collecting soil samples from my backyard, the beach and compost bins.  I  found a number of phages in the University compost bin!

How do you know that you have found a phage?

You add a phage sample to a plate (like the one pictured), that contains bacteria cells. Leave them over night and they form small clearings, called plaques.  These plaques are areas when the phage has infected the bacteria and killed them, leaving a clear spot on the plate.


Plaques on bacterial plate 

As seen in the picture, there are different sized plaques that have different morphologies (characteristics, i.e. cloudy or clear).  This means that there are different bacteriophages present.  From this plate I managed to purify three different phages.  Two of these phages were whangai – adopted out to other class mates, and I kept one to work on further.

The Phage Hunt course allows you use an Electron Microscope to get images of your phage and you get to name your phage.

So, I present to you, Mahuika.

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 9.38.04 PM

My phage, Mahuika

Mahuika is about 315 nanometers long.  That is 0.00035 of a millimeter.

He tino iti – very small!

The capsid contains the phage DNA.  The tail fibers allow the phage to recognize and attach to their host bacteria.  The tail allows the phage DNA to infect the host bacteria.  Mahuika’s sister phages that were adopted out are named Mooo and Naira.

Click here to have a look at the Phage Data Base

Why did I name my phage Mahuika?

Mahuika is the Māori Goddess of Fire.  She is the wife of Auahitūroa and the teina – younger sister of Hine-nui-o-te-pō.  Some of you will have heard about the Goddess of Fire from the pukapuka – story, about how Māui brought fire to the world; or maybe I should say tricked Mahuika and stole her fire!

Mahuika and Maui

Mahuika is not impressed by Māui (1)

*Tsk tsk tsk*

Here is a short version of the story.  Māui was curious about where fire came from.  So one night, he put out all the fires in the pa – village.  In the morning his mother Taranga, sent Māui to the ends of the earth to find Mahuika in the maunga – mountain of fire where she dwelled.

When Māui arrived he asked Mahuika for her fire to take back to the tāngata – people of the world.  She gave him one of her nails which contained the fire.  Māui left with the fire but thought to himself, what would happen if Mahuika didn’t have any fire left?  Where would she get more fire from?  So Māui threw the nail into a near by stream and  then returned to Mauhika’s maunga-mountain.


Mahuika giving her fire to Māui (2)

Maui then lied to Mahuika and said that he accidently dropped the first nail and needed another.  She gave him another one, but Māui also threw that one away.  Māui continued this nonsense, until Mahuika only had a few nails left.  When she realized what Māui was doing, she became very angry!  She threw one of her nails at Māui and a wild fire exploded around him!

Māui fled from the mountain, into the forest.  The wild fire followed him and hit the Mahoe tree, the Tōtara, the Patete, the Pukatea, and the Kaikōmako trees.  Unlike Māui, the trees knew that Mahuika’s fire was a great gift, and so they grasp onto the fire.  When Māui returned to the pa – village, he brought with him dry wood from the trees to show the villagers how to start a fire by rubbing together the wood.

That is the pukapuka – story, of how Māui brought fire to the world.  This is one of my favorite stories of Māui’s adventures.



Although, this story doesn’t exactly relate to bacteria and viruses , I once read an account of an old koro (elderly man) exclaiming “E hika! Ko Mahuika koe!” (Oh my! You are Mahuika!) when he was shown a radio for the first time.  I do not think he meant that the radio was the Goddess of fire, or that it was going to burst into flames, rather it surprised and intrigued him.  This is how I felt about by phage!  Surprised and intrigued by the complexity of such a simple biological particle.

In addition, Māui’s curiosity is the same kind of curiosity that I feel when I think about Te Ao o ngā Huakita me ngā Huaketo.   Albert Einstein once said “I have no special talents; I am only passionately curious.” For me being a scientist simply means being curious enough and bold enough, to ask questions.

Māui’s curiosity lead him to Mahuika, just as my curiosity lead me to my phage.  This is why I named my phage after the Goddess of fire.  However, I do intend to treat my Mahuika better than Māui treated his.

Nō reira – therefore

Until next time whanau, think about what intrigues you?

Are you curious enough, like Māui or like me, to search for your Mahuika?

Ngā mihi ki a koutou – thank you all.

Ka kite anō,

Anezka Hoskin



  1. Mahuika and Maui. Retrieved from
  2. Amber Stotts (2007). Maui and Mahuika.  Retrieved from
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