Braving the heat in our business casual, we set out for 19700 Helix Drive in Ashburn, Virginia for the 7th Annual SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science… whew!) Symposium on Friday, June 12th. Equipped with our poster and hours of preparation, Maddi Strine and I (Alex Agesen) were ready to present the research of our peers from Gettysburg College’s Virus Hunting program for First Year students to our fellow phage fanatics at HHMI Janelia Research Campus. An analysis of the genomic features of the subcluster B1 mycobacteriophage Phamished, isolated on Mycobacterium smegmatis mc2155 by Gettysburg’s very own Sarah Brantley, was our particular topic of discussion.
Alongside us stood students from nearly 90 other colleges, universities, and high schools, eager to present their findings which ranged from new protocols for phage isolation to analyses of the palindromes utilized by restriction enzymes in phage genomes. Interspersed throughout the weekend were 18 student-led and 4 faculty-led talks to the symposium audience as a whole.
Following our presentation, we ventured outside for a closer look at the elusive “Red Nessie.” We couldn’t leave without a token picture with Janelia’s famous sculpture.
The weekend was not ALL phages, however, as we learned a thing or two about high resolution light microscopy from the 2014 Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry, Eric Betzig. We were also graced with a talk by the University of Pittsburgh’s Graham Hatfull, one of the researchers responsible for initiating the SEA-PHAGES program.
All in all, we had an enlightening first experience sharing research with other institutions, and we loved seeing so many educators and scientists with such enthusiasm for undergraduate research. Putting Phamished on the back burner, we are continuing to work with bacteriophage isolation and annotation from hosts of the Actinobacteria phylum, expanding the host range of our phages to Micromonospora.