Phage Hunting Research Experience for First-Year Students

Do you want to discover and describe a virus that no one else has ever seen? Do you want to discover new viral genes? Do you want to use your virus as a therapeutic to cure disease? Then come virus hunting with us!

Specific viruses, called bacteriophage (or phage), can infect and kill bacteria. Within minutes of infecting a bacterium, a single phage can make several copies of itself, killing the bacterium and releasing the new phage into the environment. Phage are the most diverse and numerous life-like form on earth and scientists are finding new and unique ones every day!

Loving your enemy’s enemy: Many bacteria are pathogenic and cause disease in plants and animals. Since phage kill bacteria and many bacteria can cause disease in plants and animals, we can harness phage and use them as a therapeutic. Phage isolated from our Phage Hunters class have been used as “phage therapy” to cure a bacterial pathogen in apple trees – read about this exciting new direction for Gettysburg Biology students.

Our Phage Hunters class in the Biology Department offers a yearlong research experience for first-year students students. This project involves students in a nation-wide research project. It is open to a limited number (16) of students and provides each student with ownership of a project and an exciting opportunity to contribute to the scientific community! As part of this class, students will also have opportunities to professionally present their research findings as posters and oral presentations.

In the fall semester (BIO 113), students learn how to isolate and purify phages, describe the growth characteristics of their phage, characterize its morphology via electron microscopy, and isolate and purify their phage DNA to have it sequenced. Students will also apply their phage as a therapy to kill unwanted infectious bacteria.

In the spring semester (BIO 114), students use bioinformatics tools to analyze their viral genome. Students identify genes in the sequence and they may even discover and name new genes. They will contribute to a growing database of sequenced phage and compare their phage genome to those in the database. Students will propose hypotheses to explain the differences and similarities they observe by comparing genomes and conduct independent research projects in small groups.


Who should take this course? Any student intent on research or interested in finding out if research is the right career path. Any student who likes the challenges of discovery and of the unknown.

Will this course be too challenging for me? Although this course is more time consuming than a regular introductory course, we don’t expect it to be more difficult. Bio 113 will meet formally three times per week for a total of eight hours, while Bio 114 will meet twice a week for a total of six hours. Students should also expect to work on their research outside of class time (sometimes on week-ends).

How does this course fit in my potential major? For potential Biology, BMB (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), or ES (Environmental Studies) majors, BIO 113 will replace BIO 111 in the fall semester. For potential HS (Health Science) majors, BIO 113 will replace BIO 110 in the fall semester. All these majors require BIO 112 in the spring semester. Phage students take BIO 114 concurrently with Bio 112 in the spring.

How do I apply? The application is closed for the 2017-18 academic year.

More questions? Contact Prof. Matthew Kittelberger at, Chair of the Biology Department, or Prof. Nikki Shariat at, Assistant Professor of Biology, for further information.

The application is closed for the 2017-18 academic year.

Thanks to Phage Hunter Rebecca Callaghan '19 for putting this video together.

Students in the lab

2015-16 cohort

In the lab

At work

phage drawing

Phage attaching to bacteria and injecting its DNA.
By Naufa Amirani, Class of ‘19