ACM PhageHunters Visit UMBC

Kristin Kehrwald 301-784-5152


PhageHunters students and faculty at UMBC

The fall semester PhageHunters group pose with UMBC's mascot, True Grit. L-R: Joy Freidenbloom, ACM Science Lab Coordinator; Christian Speir, ACM freshman; Kemi Sowoolu, ACM freshman; Dr. Donna Brunelli, ACM Professor and Interim Chair of the Science Department; Steve Heninger, ACM Professor; Tallen Conway, ACM freshman; Michele Barmoy, ACM Associate Professor; and Addison Long, ACM freshman.

PhageHunters student poses with an image of his phage, Mueller.

Tallen Conway, an ACM Biology major from Frostburg, holds a photograph of his bacteriophage which he named “Mueller” after his favorite soccer player.

A PhageHunters student prepares his phage for viewing.

Christian Speir, a General Studies major, uses wedges of Whatman filter paper to prepare his sample for viewing through the FEI Morgagni 268 100 kV TEM.



CUMBERLAND, Md. (Dec. 12, 2019) – Allegany College of Maryland’s inaugural class of PhageHunters visited UMBC on Nov. 25 to view their bacteriophage (or phage) for the first time through a Transmission Electron Microscope or TEM. The students, Tallen Conway, Addison Long, Kemi Sowoolu and Christian Speir, received one-on-one instruction with Dr. Tagide deCarvalho, UMBC research assistant professor and manager of the Keith R. Porter Imaging Facility.

The visit to UMBC built on the real-world laboratory skills that the students gained during the fall semester. At UMBC, the PhageHunters prepared their bacteriophage samples for viewing and image capture by placing them on an electron microscopy grid, clearing off debris and staining them using uranyl acetate. Having their phages photographed (using a camera attached to the FEI Morgagni 268 100 kV TEM) enabled students to measure their phage and report their findings to the international Actinobacteriophage Database developed and maintained by the Pittsburgh Bacteriophage Institute within the University of Pittsburgh. Those findings will supplement the DNA information that the students extracted from their phage samples during the last week of classes.

Prior in the semester, the students collected environmental samples from areas of their choice – ACM’s Cumberland campus and Bowman’s Addition – to isolate a phage. In the lab, each student used a plaque assay to detect the presence of a phage within their sample. At this stage, the PhageHunters named their phage samples, choosing Merlin18, Mueller and Tonka, after a video game character, a famous soccer player and a beloved dog respectively. After ensuring that they had a singular type of phage, they utilized serial dilutions to purify, amplify and titer their phages. Next, they grew (or amplified) their phages by making webbed plates to extract a phage sample which were ultimately transported in a cooler for the ride to UMBC.

The students, all freshman, traveled with their ACM PhageHunters instructors and staff, Dr. Donna Brunelli, Professor Steve Heninger, Associate Professor Michele Barmoy and Science Lab Coordinator Joy Freidenbloom.

ACM is the only community college in Maryland to offer PhageHunters, a discovery-based undergraduate research program. In 2018, the college’s Biology Department was accepted into the international Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science program (SEA-PHAGES). Administered by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the University of Pittsburgh, the program offers students the opportunity to conduct real-world research in the field of bacteriophage genomics to potentially discover new viruses that specifically target bacteria. With its emphasis on project ownership, SEA-PHAGES hopes to increase undergraduate interest and retention in the biological sciences through immersive, accessible and authentic research. The project has more than 100 participating colleges and universities.

Seats are available for ACM’s spring semester PhageHunters lab where the focus is on bioinformatics or the use of computer software and scientific methodology to understand data. Students from all areas of study are encouraged to register to have the chance to interpret DNA sequence data gleaned from phage samples collected in the fall and possibly co-author a scientific publication. Because the course requires instructor permission, students should call 301-784-5255 or visit for more information. The lab will be taught by Professor Heninger and Associate Professor Barmoy.

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