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How I supported ground-breaking research

In my final year at Durham I was lucky enough to be accepted on to the Microbiology Workshop module led by Dr Tim Blower. We spent two weeks in the research labs at the Biology site before then writing up our findings in a lab report and publishing through a scientific poster.

Isolating bacteriophage from Val Mildert Lake

The aim was to isolate and characterise a novel bacteriophage (a bacteriophage or ‘phage’ is a virus that only infects bacteria) from a local water source. As both my lab partner and I were in Van Mildert, the Van Mildert Lake was the perfect spot for this. As part of the lab work we were able to put in to practice a lot of the techniques we had developed over our three years in Durham, including electron microscopy, genomic DNA extractions and SDS-PAGE analysis.

Phage against the machine

The findings of the characteristics of our phage (which we named ‘Phage Against the Machine’ or ‘PATM’ for short) along with those of others in the workshop have now gone on to contribute to Dr Blower’s research on the interactions between bacteria and phages. I remember at the time Dr Blower mentioning he was hoping this would feed in to his research so for this to be getting published four years after finishing the workshop is exciting news! Dr Blower has used our phages to show that a particular species of bacteria use complementary systems to protect themselves from phage infection.

Van Mildert Lake where ‘Phage against the machine’ was found

How the workshop shaped my studies

This workshop was a great opportunity to do a deep dive on quite a specific topic and actually shaped how the rest of my degree in Durham would go. As a result of the workshop and the interest it ignited in bacteria-phage interactions I then wrote my literature review on how phages and bacteria are at war with each other, both constantly evolving and employing mechanisms to outcompete the other.

The workshop was at the very start of our final year and was very well supported by Dr Blower and Dr Sharples. University at times could feel overwhelming but having this engaging and fully supported start to the year gave me the confidence that final year was going to be doable!

My lab partner, Lexi Beney, and I on graduation day back in 2018

Shaping my future

I’ve now started a career in management at the NHS and I do attribute part of the success of my degree to this module.

This workshop was a great opportunity to put a degree’s worth of theory in to practice, which has now been made even more worth the while knowing it has help contribute in some small way to research being published by Dr Blower and Durham University. It is exciting to think my name will be in scientific literature… even if only in the small print!

Alex Bradley

Alex was a member of Van Mildert College and studied Biosciences at Durham. He graduate in 2018 and is now a manger in the NHS.
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