There are Bacteriophages in Your Kitchen Sponge

Student Presenter(s): Brianna Weiss, Lovejit Kaur
Faculty Mentor: Bryan Gibb
Department: Bilogy
School/College: College of Arts and Sciences, Long Island

Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria. There are 1031 bacteriophages, which means that phages are the largest source of genetic diversity on the planet. Phages are a subject of renewed interest as alternative treatments for bacterial infections, so isolating them could unveil new insights into biology and prove useful as a therapeutic. Kitchen sponges are often seen as one of the most contaminated items in the home. Since phages are found wherever bacteria reside, we hypothesized that the diverse microbial ecosystem of the kitchen sponge may harbor novel bacteriophages. Seven students isolated bacteria from dirty kitchen sponges brought in from their home, which were used to search for bacteriophages within the sponge. Two students succeeded in isolating bacteriophages that targeted the host bacteria from their sponges. 16S sequencing identified both host strains as members of Enterobacteriaceae, but biochemical test results demonstrated that the isolates were different. The phages, LKsleep and Shaolin, produce hazy plaques and are suspected to form lysogens. We show the two phages are capable of cross-infecting the other isolated host, suggesting that the hosts are closely related. This is interesting given that LKSleep and Shaolin and their respective hosts were isolated from separate sponges taken from different homes. Based on TEM, both phages are members of the Myoviridae family. Ongoing efforts are further characterizing the bacteriophages with their hosts.