Research continues with local student’s virus discovery

I learned a lot and really value that you came all the way to our little town. A lot of people overlook us but you guys didn’t, so thank you.


Chris Doyle, scientist from CFWEP, explaining how phages can be isolated from soil samples.

By Linda Rost

In May 2016, Bo Rost discovered a novel bacteriophage virus, or “phage”, which he named YodaSoda, as part of the Bringing Research into the Classroom (BRIC) program, funded by the National Institutes of Health. This grant is led by Dr. Marisa Pedulla from Montana Tech and Rayelynn Brandl, the executive director of the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program. YodaSoda was found to infect Mycobacterium smegmatis, a bacteria that is closely related to the one that causes Tuberculosis, although it is nonpathogenic.

In the year following Bo Rost’s discovery, he worked on isolating lysogenic M. smegmatis cells that had integrated YodaSoda’s DNA into its nucleus, but remained dormant and did not produce more phages. In this, he found that the phage was temperate because it had both the lysogenic and lytic, or infectious, life cycles.

CFWEP Executive Director Rayelynn Brandl adding phage buffer to Johnny Caron’s soil sample.

The BRIC program returned to Baker this fall, on Sept. 7, 12 and 13 to work with Mrs. Carol Hadley’s 7th grade Life Science classes, along with Mr. Tom Breitbach and Mrs. Linda Rost’s sophomore Biology classes, and Mrs. Rost’s Biology 2, Chemistry and Science Research classes. In total, over 100 students collected and tested samples of soil and water to try and follow in Bo Rost’s footsteps of finding their own phage.

No other phages were discovered, but students were excited to be involved in real research and contribute to the field. They learned about current research being done in the world of phages, and that in their lifetime, phage therapy could replace antibiotics for many diseases and ameliorate the plight of antibiotic resistance now plaguing modern society. Engineered phages could even be used in gene therapy for diseases like leukemia and sickle cell anemia, or they could be used to target cancer cells.

Bo Rost is continuing his research this year by studying a phenomenon discovered at Montana Tech. Scientists there developed Iron Doped Apatite Nanoparticles, which increase phage infections in bacteria by a wide margin. The mechanism of this is not understood, and it has not been tested on many phages, including YodaSoda. After spending a week in Dr. Pedulla’s lab this summer with Mrs. Rost and Dr. Jessica Gregory, Bo Rost developed his research plan. Bo Rost just completed making some nanoparticles in the high school lab, and will soon begin experimenting on whether they alter YodaSoda phage infections.  “YodaSoda has brought me on a great journey through science and has piqued my interest into the scientific community and has intrigued to become a scientist.” Bo is among other students who are enrolled in the Science Research class, facilitated by Mrs. Rost, where students design and conduct novel research and compete at state competitions.

Rachel Rost and Ty Tolzien filtering their water sample to test for phages.

Mrs. Rost is also engaged in a research project for her Master’s of Science thesis work. She is working with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (aka Staph), and the JB phage that infects it. Dr. Gregory has performed research on this bacteria, trying to develop phage and nanoparticle treatments for S. aureus wounds, in the form of a woven bandage, as an alternative to antibiotics. Mrs. Rost will be investigating the mechanism behind the phage infection, or how the phage is able to infect the bacteria. Additionally, she will be determining how the nanoparticles increase phage infection. Her hypothesis is that the phages are exploiting the iron uptake mechanisms that the cell uses to obtain iron. To test this, she is first growing cells in different iron treatments and determine the changes in phage infections.

This program has allowed many students to engage in real research, and has brought many authentic and novel research opportunities to Baker students. The grant will last for one more year, but plans are being made to be involved in a grant renewal that would continue to serve this traditionally underserved region of eastern Montana.

Student quotes:

Scientists are some of the smartest people I know. They are trying to improve the world.

I learned a lot and really value that you came all the way to our little town. A lot of people overlook us but you guys didn’t, so thank you.

It looks fun being a scientist.

The help is amazing. It makes sense because you explained it a lot. Thank you for letting me learn more and test my phage.

This experiment made me want to become a scientist.

You made me think about being a scientist.

I would tell them that what they do is really cool.

The BRIC program has expanded my knowledge on phages and phage research, and has gotten me interested in phage research.


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