Southwest Students Hunt for Viruses


Lillian Bittle

Hannah Nigh placing specific types of bacteria into soft agar. Students did different lab procedures to help the scientific community.

Lillian Bittle, Writer

From Friday, April 22 to Tuesday, April 26, Charles Bittle, Kevin Schrad and Pete Stone’s classes worked with Dr. Kristin Parent’s Lab (Parent Lab) from Michigan State University. Parent Lab works partly on finding new bacteriophages. A bacteriophage is a virus that only infects bacteria. This semester, three scientists from Parent Lab, Dr. Sundharraman (Sundar) Subramanian, Kendal Tinney and Rochelle Ratnayake joined the classes. Typically, Dr. Parent would join the classes but due to a scheduling conflict was not able to make it.


“When we can get scientists that are working in a specific field into the classroom for students to see, it gives them a chance to actually work on a citizen science project,” Bittle said. “The data from students’ aquatic samples goes into the scientific community and it is shared out with scientists around the world in order to further and advance the knowledge of science. It’s a way to bridge the gap between high school and college, giving them experience at a college level.”


The Parent Lab contributes to a public database which shows the many types of bacteriophages they have found. Working with Southwest gives Parent Lab scientists an opportunity to teach students about their profession by conducting a high level lab. In addition, students and scientists find new bacteriophages that feed upon foodborne illness bacteria, which is bacteria that infects food, such as shigella, Esecherichia coli and salmonella.


“You get to learn some lab procedures that you don’t necessarily get in a regular high school science class,” freshman Maya Stevenson said. “It’s fun to get experts’ opinions, it adds to your knowledge and your curiosity.”


Southwest will welcome the scientists back in fall 2022 to work with all biology students.