Bringing research into Baker’s classroom

 Daniel Rost extracting a potential phage from his petri dish.
Daniel Rost extracting a potential phage from his petri dish.

   This week, scientists from Montana Tech’s Bringing Research into Classroom program (BRIC) worked with Mrs. Rost’s science classes along with Mrs. Hadley’s and Mr. Breitbach’s seventh grade life science and tenth grade biology classes in an amazing project that will help push science forward! This program involves students in real science that could help find cures and a better way to kill bacteria.

By Emmalee Thurlow

   The BRIC program has one main goal - find as many phages (viruses that kill bacteria) as possible and get students interested in science. This search for phages began when antibiotics started to make superbugs (bacteria resistant to modern medicine) and bacteria such as Tuberculosis became difficult or impossible to kill. Tuberculosis is not very common in the U.S., but in 2014 it affected about ten million people worldwide and killed 1.5 million. About half a million people have multi-drug resistant strains in 2014. Phages are very common and harmless to humans and they are focusing on phages that could kill Tuberculosis so it can be used as a medicine instead of antibiotics. To study this, they use a bacterium that is similar to Tuberculosis to see if the samples collected can kill it. If so, then they sequence its DNA and start testing it against Tuberculosis. One day they hope to find phages that can kill these harmful bacteria without creating superbugs from antibiotics.

   On the first day, May 16, Dr. Marisa Pedulla from MT Tech visited our school and talked to each science class about her research. She described what bacteria are and explained the history of what people have done to kill harmful bacteria. Then she explained why phages are so important and why we must search for them. She told us BRIC’s goal and what our role was: we were to gather a sample from wherever we chose as long as it wasn’t of animal or human origin. She gave us our test tubes and we set out. Some gathered from Baker lake, soil from backyards, compost piles and cattle fields.

 Chris Doyle (CFWEP) helping Kadon Wood and Zach Craig to inject a sample of potential phages onto a petri dish.
Chris Doyle (CFWEP) helping Kadon Wood and Zach Craig to inject a sample of potential phages onto a petri dish.

   The next day, Chris Doyle and Evan Norman from Clark Ford Watershed Education Program came to help us do the lab work and provide us with the equipment we needed. We mixed our samples with a catalyst so we could see results faster and extracted any possible phages while keeping everything as sterile as possible. We mixed this with the Tuberculosis look-alike and put it on a plate, allowing it to incubate for about 24 hours. During this time, if there was a phage it would grow and reproduce, killing the bacteria around it, causing a “dead zone”.

   Then, finally on day three we were able to see if there were any dead zones on our plates. After checking, we would circle the area with the possible dead zone and take a sample from it. We again mixed it with the Tuberculosis look-alike and put it on a group plate. These group plates were sectioned off and each class made two – one would stay with us while the other went back with Chris and Evan so Dr. Pedulla could further examine them. Chris and Evan took our original sample extraction, our plate, the sample from possible dead zone mixed with the bacteria, and the group plates. If a person’s sample had a phage, then they get the honor of naming the new phage and co-authoring a scientific paper. Everyone picked out a name for theirs just in case they did find one.

 Evan Norman (CFWEP) assisting Megan Greiff and Isaac Rost in isolating and injecting a potential phage into petri dish.
Evan Norman (CFWEP) assisting Megan Greiff and Isaac Rost in isolating and injecting a potential phage into petri dish.

   One sample did show promise. Bo Rost’s plate had an obvious dead zone, and Chris and Evan even stated they were pretty sure it was a phage. Also, while looking recently at the plate, Bo’s section had an obvious dead zone and Mrs. Rost stated she is very confident that it is a phage. If Bo Rost did discover a new phage, then Baker will be known for the place of the “YodaSoda” phage discovery, a potential cure for Tuberculosis. Stay tuned for confirmation of this discovery.

   Just this year in the BRIC program, out of 4,000 students, eleven phages have been found. Worldwide, 8000 phages have been discovered with names such as “GageAP”, “Dumbledore”, and “Chewie”, and only 1500 of these phages have had their DNA fully sequenced.

   Dr. Pedulla will be studying all of what was given to her over the course of a few weeks to confirm if one of our Baker students found a new phage. If one is confirmed, Mrs. Rost will be contacted and told who discovered the new phage. Now we must all wait and see if “YodaSoda” is a reality. BRIC will return next fall to ask for students’ help again in looking for new phages and students who participated this year are eager for their return.

   Student quotes:

   “You guys are really important.”

   “Thank you for coming! It was very fun and interesting and I learned a lot.”

   “I just want to thank them for coming. I feel like this program has been eye opening because I have learned so many things including that it is not as hard to test a phage as I thought.”

   “This was a very fun activity, and I’m a little sad it’s over.”

   “Science is cool. I like the process.”

   “Thank you for spending time with us and for giving me ideas for my future.”

   “I would tell them to keep up this awesome program.”

  “Thank you for letting me experience this great opportunity.”

   “I think this lab was awesome because it teaches people how to test things and it makes people know what it feels like to be a scientist.”

  “This was a cool experience.”

   “ Learning how to test something really helps and is a fun way to learn.”

   “I think this whole bacteria and phage project has helped my understanding about them a lot.”

   “What I want to tell the scientists is they did an amazing job leading and helping us with the experiment. I had a lot of fun with it and it was a great experiment. Thanks for coming down!”