Honors Students' Abstracts
Contagion: The Freshmen Mycobacteriophage Project
McKenzie Kerr, Paola Lockwood
Bacteriophages, being one of the most abundant organisms on Earth, have an estimated population of 10^31 living phage. These organisms are highly diverse and potentially useful in the fields of bioinformatics and genetic engineering. However, in order to utilize these abundant life forms we need to gain insight into their genetic structure, gene functions, interactions with bacteria, and similarities to other annotated phages. Our research focuses on mycobacteriophages, whose host bacteria is Mycobacterium smegmatis. By studying this phage we can gain information about its DNA and its mechanisms for host infection, which will then provide insights into the characteristics of other mycobacteriophages such as those that infect M. tuberculosis and other pathogenic relatives. We, as members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Science Education Alliance (SEA) Phage Program, isolated, purified, cultivated, and examined a novel phage, Contagion, discovered in soil on LMU’s campus. Contagion, as we discovered through restriction enzyme mapping, belongs to the phage cluster E. Its siphoviridal morphotype confirms this finding. We are currently sequencing a part of its genome using BLAST, DNA master, GeneMark, Glimmer, and other bioinformatic programs. We will discuss the isolation and characterization of Contagion and detail our progress in using these bioinformatics tools to annotate Contagion’s genome and assess its role in mycobacterial ecology.