Bacteriophages (Phages, for short) are viruses of bacteria and can be safely isolated from environmental samples. This summer, Dr. April Burch, Director of the Advanced Math Science Research (AMSR) program, attended a workshop on phage isolation and characterization. With instructors from around the world, she worked to isolate phage from soil samples collected from Berkshire School and the around the Berkshires. She isolated two phage, now named Treddle and Shire. She has adapted this program for AMSR students who will isolate viruses from fresh water samples collected from the region this fall.
Electron micrographs of Treddle are shown below. The low magnification micrograph shows a group of three phages (left) and higher magnification (right) shows features of the virus head and tail.
The Phage-hunting Teachers Workshop, held at the University of Pittsburgh June 25-29, was funded by a Professorship grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to Dr. Graham Hatfull. The goal of the workshop was to give Instructors the tools needed to blend science research and education at the undergraduate level. By providing a hands-on research experience, student Phage-hunters learn by doing rather than by memorizing. This process results in a highly effective pedigogy—and is a ton of fun!
Click here to learn more about the process.
By implementing Phage-hunting in the Advanced Math Science Research, participating students will have the opportunity to isolate their own bacteriophages from a soil or water sample, grow their virus to high concentration in the lab on campus, analyze its structure, sequence its genome, and characterize its growth traits. This highly-personalized student-driven research program will provide a deep understanding of many biological concepts and advanced laboratory skills to Berkshire students.
Known phages are entered in a phage database. Dr. Burch's two phages, Treddle and Shire, are listed on a page dedicated to Berkshire discoveries, and future phages studied by AMSR students will hopefully be added. Click here to view Berkshire's page in the phage database.