My lab has an ongoing project identifying and characterizing novel bacteriophages (phages). These viruses can be found anywhere their host bacteria are found: in our bodies, in our backyards, in the ocean, and even in hot springs or polar regions. Several students have contributed at many levels to this ongoing project. Students in my introductory biology course all participate in a "phagehunting" lab where they bring soil samples in to class and we search for phages that infect the lab bacteria we are interested in, Acinetobacter baylyi. This bacteria is a non-pathogenic soil bacteria, so is safe for use in the classroom, but it is closely related to other pathogenic species of bacteria.
The information we learn about phages that infect A. baylyi may give us important insights into phage biology and into potential therapeutic applications. After students identify a new phage, they may come to work in my research lab to purify and characterize their phage, including discovering how it infects bacteria, what it looks like by electron microscopy, and determining its genome sequence. Many students have presented their progress on this project at campus and statewide meetings. One past student presented her work as a poster at a national scientific meeting.
Current research students and I are working to formalize characterization of one novel phage in order to submit a manuscript for publication. Work also continues to build up the number of phages identified and characterized in the lab, with a goal of comparative analysis of many Acinetobacter phages.