When searching for viruses that infect bacteria … call on researchers trained to isolate them. Students working with a SEPCHE group called SEA-Phage spent time in St. Joseph Hall’s fifth-floor labs earlier this summer. They had collected soil samples from a location of their choice and extracted bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) from the soil. In this case, the students tried to isolate viruses that infect a certain species of bacteria called Arthrobacter. They purified the DNA genome of the virus they isolated and then capped off their “hunt” by DNA sequencing their isolated viral genomes.
According to Joe Kulkosky, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and chair of the department, in some cases students identify a novel quasi-species of virus.
“The overall goal this summer was to provide science majors an opportunity to be involved in hands-on, investigative research and they certainly attained that goal by following a rigorous protocol which led to every student isolating at least one bacteriophage quasi-species,” says Kulkosky. “DNA sequencing will soon reveal unique genetic features of their own phage isolates.”
Andrew Conboy ’18 was a lab assistant for the project: “We had less time to run the course this year, and we weren’t sure how successful we would be [ensuring at least one new virus made it through the entire process from isolation to sequencing and annotation],” he says. “Ultimately, we were blown away by the success the students were having. In total, 26 new bacteriophages were isolated, including seven phages from Chestnut Hill College students and two from Dr. Lisa McKernan, our microbiology professor.”
Conboy added that the students learned a variety of common research lab techniques that will help in the future, and it was exciting for him, as a peer mentor, to see the students learning to do the process on their own.
Robert Schmidt who graduated from Cabrini University in May, also worked with SEA-Phage. He and Conboy won an award for their research on the same project last year from the annual Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Alliance Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science Symposium.