Capsid and Tail
A weekly phage periodical
June 27, 2019
Issue 34: Involving high school students in phage research

Involving high school students in phage research

This week, we’re showcasing how Karen Adler, an MSc student in Dr. Ronen Hazan's lab in Jerusalem, involves high school students in her phage research. She describes the phage work their lab is doing with the students, highlights a few success stories, and tells us how she inspires her students.

Some of our early Capsid & Tail readers may remember our Classroom Challenge. We spoke to middle-schoolers about phages, then we wrote about our experience and encouraged the phage community to do the same. Now we want to showcase some of the researchers we heard from who are inspiring the next generation of phage enthusiasts!

What’s New

Mian Li Ooi and colleagues at the University of Adelaide and Ampliphi Biosciences published a paper on their use of phage therapy in a phase I clinical trial to treat patients with chronic rhinosinusitis caused by Staphylococcus aureus. They found that intranasal irrigation with phage cocktail AB-SA01 was safe and well tolerated, and they saw promising preliminary efficacy results.

Phage TherapyClinical Trials

Nicolas Dufour of the Institut Pasteur and colleagues have shown that lysis of E. coli by phages in mice (as a treatment for pneumonia) did not increase innate inflammatory responses compared to an antibiotic treatment.

Phage-Immune Interactions

The International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya has partnered with the Université Laval in Canada to develop phage products against Salmonella to treat poultry in Kenya. The project is funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the UK’s Global AMR Innovation Fund.

NewsCollaboration

Brianna Weiss and colleagues from the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) presented work at ASM Microbe this past week that showed their identification of phages in kitchen sponges. This project started as part of an undergraduate research class at NYIT.

Phage Hunting

The winner of the Microbiology Society’s 2019 Fleming Prize for outstanding research is Prof. Peter Fineran, Associate Professor at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Watch Prof. Fineran’s award talk on phage resistance systems here.

LectureAward

Sociovirology is the study of conflict, cooperation and communication of viruses. To get up to speed on this rapidly advancing new field, check out this news feature in Nature by Elie Doglin.

Sociovirology

Latest Jobs

Postdoctoral position: Gut phageomics
University College Cork, APC Microbiome, Cork, Ireland
Dr. Colin Hill

APC Microbiome Ireland is a trans-disciplinary research centre, with clinicians, clinician- scientists and basic scientists from diverse backgrounds working in teams, sharing ideas and resources. The Post-Doctoral Researcher will work within this lab as part of the APC’s ‘Gut Phageomics Spoke’ which is collaborating with a major multi-national pharmaceutical company to explore the role of bacteriophages in shaping the human gut microbiome.

More Details Last day: June 28, 2019
Post Doc Gut Phageome
PhD Student Position: Gut phages for the biocontrol of AMR pathogens
Quadram Institute Bioscience, Norwich, UK
Dr. Evelien Adriaenssens and Dr. Mark Webber

We are recruiting a student on a fully-funded PhD project on the use of bacteriophages as biocontrol agents for antimicrobial resistant pathogens. The project is an academic-industry collaboration between the Quadram Institute Bioscience and JAFRAL (Ljubljana, Slovenia), a world-leading phage manufacturing company. The student will discover novel phages against Salmonella and Klebsiella bacteria and investigate resistance development and the interactions with clinically relevant antibiotics, using state-of-the-art techniques such as TraDIS and high-throughput sequencing. During a three-month placement period in Slovenia, the student will get inducted in the phage manufacturing process and create high-quality phage preparations.

More Details Last day: July 29, 2019
PhD Gut phages
PhD Student Position: Bacteriophage Engineering
University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Prof. Lone Brøndsted

The world-wide threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria has made WHO and EU emphasize the urgent need for innovative research to develop alternatives to antibiotics against Gram-negative pathogens. The aim of this project is to develop custom-made antimicrobials specifically targeting critical clinical and foodborne pathogens. This will be achieved by engineering the tail of a unique bacteriophage to carry multiple binding capacities derived from the huge diversity of phage receptor binding proteins found in nature.

More Details Last day: July 31, 2019
PhD Receptor binding proteins
Internship Position: Micreos
Micreos, Wageningen, Netherlands

Micreos Food Safety develops natural phage products against dangerous bacteria in the food chain and is viewed as product leader in this field. During your internship, you will assist our researchers in the laboratory on current Research and Development projects. The practical work will mainly involve microbiological techniques in relation to the isolation, characterization, and lab-scale production of bacteriophages. The internship is for a time period of 5 to 6 months (longer is possible).

Internship Phage IsolationPhage Characterization
Microbiologist: BiomX
BiomX, Ness Ziona, Israel

BiomX is a leading Israeli biotech company developing microbiome-based novel therapeutics. We are looking for a highly-motivated M.Sc.-level research assistant to join our Microbiology team. By joining this team, you will be part of novel research in the microbiome field and the development of phage therapies.

Microbiologist Phage TherapyMicrobiome

Community Board

June 25, 2019
Seeking phage research opportunity
Name: Mahsa Yazdi
Location: Gorgan, Iran
Organization: Golestan University of Medical Sciences

I recently graduated with a Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Isfahan, Iran. My thesis was entitled “Isolation and characterization of lytic bacteriophages against some of the most common bacterial causes of urinary tract infections” under the supervision of Prof. Majid Bouzari. During my Ph.D. project, I learned almost all the necessary techniques and methods for phage study and gained useful experience in phages and phage therapy. I currently work as an independent researcher at the Department of Microbiology, Golestan University of Medical Sciences, Gorgan, Iran. I am looking for a postdoc or research scientist position to pursue my interest in phages and related topics. Please email me at [email protected] if you have any openings or would like to discuss further!

Seeking opportunity Post DocResearch

Involving high school students in phage research

Karen Adler
LinkedIn

The Alpha program

As part of their biology matriculation exams, gifted high school students in some schools in Israel have the option to join a program called Alpha, which allows them to join university research laboratories and take on little research projects of their own, even presenting a miniature thesis at the end of 1.5 years.

How it works

The program essentially takes gifted high schoolers, asks them what interests them, and sends them to interviews at the beginning of the academic year in labs that deal with relevant subjects (can be physics, chemistry, or biology).

Each student is given a PhD student mentor (I’m the only MSc student who has them, but that’s just because I’m almost done with my project and am starting my PhD soon). Then the mentor, together with the Principal Investigator of the lab, chooses a project for each student that goes alongside/supports the mentor’s PhD project. Each student has to have their own individual project, and throughout the year and a half of the program, they submit a research proposal and parts of a thesis for approval, with the final thesis sent to the Ministry of Education at the end of the project.

Current students

I am currently mentoring two 10th graders who just started their project in November and already found (on their own - I swear!) 16 phages for Pseudomonas! I wish I had an opportunity like this when I was their age!

Student successes

We’ve had several students over the past few years, working on a variety of phage-related topics ranging from anthrax, to food contamination, to phage-antibiotic synergy, one of whom, Sarit, even got second author on a publication in 11th grade. So, we thought you’d like to hear about our young stars – Sarit, Itamar, and Noa.

Sarit’s anthrax phages

Sarit finished her project in 2018. She worked alongside PhD students Sivan Alkalay and Leron Khalifa on anthrax, and at age 16 discovered two phages for it on her own; the phages were named after her, the other high school student who helped, and the Alpha program, SNα300 and SNα320. The phages were isolated from soil samples from the Golan Heights (plains in the north of Israel). After this discovery, she was invited to present her work to the Board of Governors of the Hebrew University, and consequently invited to Sydney, Australia by the Australian Friends of the Hebrew University to present her work there at schools and fundraising events.

Phage SNα320, isolated by Sarit, a high school student in the Hazan lab
Phage SNα320, isolated by Sarit, a high school student in the Hazan lab.

Itamar and Noa’s Pseudomonas phages

Itamar and Noa are in 10th grade, aged 16 and 15 respectively, and just started in the lab in November with me. Before they started their individual projects (Itamar is working on phage-antibiotic synergy, and Noa is working on lysogenic phage mutagenesis), I wanted them to get a feel for their new buddy Pseudomonas aeruginosa and phage work in general. So, I set them a task – go read about P. aeruginosa, find out where it likes to live, and bring samples. They came back with 18 samples ranging from rotten orange and grapefruit, to wormy mud, to flowers – they grew and screened them on their own using a protocol I developed for P. aeruginosa, and lo and behold – 16 of the samples were positive (the rotten orange and rotten grapefruit didn’t work out)!

Itamar and Noa working hard
High school students Itamar and Noa studying phages in the Hazan lab.

Plaque assay of phages isolated by the students
A plaque assay showing a phage isolated by the students.

Out of those 16 samples, a few even had multiple morphologies (i.e. multiple phages)! I’ve included some photos we took when we plated serial dilutions to see what was environmental antibiotic and what was phage. They were super pumped – we celebrated with cookies shaped like bacteria and phages!

Phage Cookies!
Of course, phage cookies help motivate students (and researchers of all ages!)

We separated, grew and sequenced the phages, did electron microscopy, and they presented all of this on a poster at the annual Israel Society for Microbiology convention in March. Of course we will also be testing all 16+ on our current potential patient samples!

Tips on inspiring high school students in the (phage) lab

When it comes to getting kids excited about phage research, I think the most important thing is that you have to be excited yourself! Show your enthusiasm, it gets them going right away – “guys, I am working on the coolest project ever, I kill bacteria by infecting them with viruses!” (showing a picture of what a phage looks like always works too). Explain to them why phages are so cool, tell them about the main idea of your research, why it will change medicine today.

Show them results like plaques on a petri dish – explain what they’re seeing there (“See that dot? It started from a single virus.”) There’s no need to go into details, they might get lost and lose interest – but on the other hand, while they may not have all the background science knowledge you do, that doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate being shown real science at work.

Further reading

Check out the Hazan lab website, where many more student/lab member achievements like these are celebrated!

Karen Adler

LinkedIn

Karen Adler is an MSc student in the lab of Dr. Ronen Hazan at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.

For every issue of Capsid & Tail, we are committed to getting our facts straight, but we’re not experts in the information we’re bringing to you. If you feel that we’ve missed an important viewpoint, or if you have something to add, please reach out to us by emailing [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you, and we’d be happy to revisit topics we’ve covered (ideally with added information and viewpoints from community members like you!).

Lastly, please reach out if you’re interested in writing for us, or have suggestions for future issues!