About this blog

The Phage Hunt NZ is part of the Bachelor of Natural Science at Massey University. In this largely enquiry based course students are given the tools that they need in order to ask their own scientific questions. The Phage Hunt NZ module of their second year paper gives students the opportunity to discover a unique biological entity, name it and discover what genes the entity encodes for. Some students are then invited to participate in a summer student project in the Hendrickson lab between their second and third year in the program.

Why a blog?

The students in the Phage hunt are required to post at least two blogs during their 1 month course in the lab. These posts will be commented on by the other students in the paper and both the posts and the comments will be evaluated by the instructor for comprehensibility, interest and cohesion. Communication and clarity are an important part of developing as thinkers in a modern world and this part of the course will give students practical experience in one form of communication. For the purpose of this paper students are permitted to post under a pseudonym but as a general principle, science communication on line is best done in an open and honest way where this is not necessary.

A brief description of the course follows:

Bacteriophages (phage for short) are viruses found in everything around us and at 10^31, they are the most numerous ‘organism’ on the planet. Phages specialize in infecting and destroying specific bacterial strains and can therefore be isolated by using a bacterial strain of interest. Bacteriophages are used in industry to target pathogens and have been used in the past in humans as a treatment against infection.

Course Design: In this module students will be sent into the field to collect dirt samples from which they will isolate bacteriophages that infect Pseudomonas fluorescens, a harmless cousin of both Pseudomonas aerigunosa and Pseudmonas syringae actinidae (PSA), bacterial pathogens that have both medical and agricultural importance in NZ. The bacteriophage isolation will be a lab-based exercise that the students will be responsible for carrying out largely independently but with the support and advice of a laboratory technician and the lecturer. Successfully isolated bacteriophages will be grown to high concentration, preserved and named by the students. Ideally, the students will be able to prepare the DNA of isolated phages for sequencing. During this process students will experience scientific trouble-shooting and collaboration. This module is tied closely to a sister module in the second term in which the students will have the opportunity to analyse the DNA sequence of the phages that they have isolated. Genome sequences will be annotated and contributed to open public databases as a real contribution to the scientific community.

Objectives: Students will be able to define what a bacteriophage is and how they are isolated. Students will be able to explain how bacteriophage hunting can contribute to public good for both science and society. Students will be able to apply their own experiences to the experiences of other student scientists in order to ‘trouble shoot’ problems as a team. Students will be prepared to design alternative bacteriophage hunt experiments for other organisms.

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