The phage lab has been a center for undergraduate research at Evergreen since Elizabeth (Betty) Kutter came here in 1972, one year after the college opened. Today, there are generally 10-15 students involved in work in the lab. The early work focused on phage genetics and the transition from host to phage metabolism after infection of E. coli by T4, particularly on the roles of T4′s use of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (HMdC) in place of cytosine in its DNA, the gradual degradation of the host DNA and the role of T4′s gpAlc in the shutoff of transcription of cytosine-containing DNA. Through the years, collaborations with Evergreen colleagues and many members of the phage community have added new strengths and directions, such as the T4 genome project of the 1980s and 1990s, anaerobic infections, ecologically relevant simulations and a variety of new phages.
Since 1999, the collaboration with Dr. Andrew Brabban has impacted phage research at Evergreen significantly. Having worked in both industrial and academic settings, Brabban brings expertise in biotechnology and microbial physiology, especially under anaerobic conditions. He quickly struck up a close working partnership with Kutter, born of a mutual interest in designing new technologies to help society and in “finding answers to the questions people never ask”. Now, we are focusing particularly on phage ecology with the aims of understanding the infection process under conditions better reflecting those in the natural environment, as well as on interactions between phages of different families during simultaneous infection and the building of cocktails for potential therapeutic applications. In efforts to help clear E. coli O157 out of the guts of livestock, we work with phages isolated from sheep and cattle (mainly of the T4 and T5 families), collaborating with USDA scientists in College Station, Texas. We also are isolating and studying many phages targeting Pseudomonas aeruginosa from cystic fibrosis patients and from dog-ear infections, in collaboration with scientists at the Eliava Institute in Tbilisi, Georgia as well as with Jane Burns at Children’s Hospital, Seattle and with a local veterinarian. The abstracts below reflect work that our students have presented at various recent regional, national and international meetings, including the biennial Evergreen International Phage Biology meetings, which occur every odd-numbered year.