Phage Medallions

Viruses are pretty much all anyone can think about right now, with one specific virus dominating our waking moments (and maybe our dreams? I haven’t had any dreams featuring Covid yet, but I’m sure that will come). This is with good reason, of course.

I used to do research on viruses many years ago – but my viruses didn’t require me to wear “moonsuits” or need special facilities to work on them – they were bacteriophages (or phages, for short) and they only infected and killed bacteria. Phages were discovered during the First World War, typically co-credited to two scientists, one British and one French, working separately. This was the pre-antibiotic era, and so phages were hailed as the miracle that was going to save thousands of soldiers from dying from bacterial infections.

Phage treatment suffered from a number of problems and setbacks during WWI and afterwards, although it was successfully used. But antibiotics quickly eclipsed phages for treatment of infections in the 1930s and 40s, and phages were all but forgotten in the medical community.

Humans have a short memory when it comes to viruses, it seems – both good and bad. But viruses don’t forget us. As a former phage scientist, it has been heartening to see the renewed interest in phages as a potential treatment for antibiotic resistant infections. And see what happens when you get me talking about phages…a longer than normal blog post!

I did these two drawings to celebrate phages in the world around us. We used to go out behind the lab building and smear some dirt on a petri plate to find them – it was just that easy. Figured we could use something positive about viruses these days!


    1. Yes! They are ink. At the start of the lockdown, I was working through a workbook of ink exercises focusing on texture, so trying to bring that to bear here. 😀
      I think phages do have real potential for this – it may ultimately not be a “cocktail” of intact phages applied to an infection (although this is being tried too) but from phage proteins that we develop into therapies that block and kill bacteria.

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  1. The artwork is excellent, and phages are absolutely fascinating, especially considering they are the most numerous organisms on our planet, and their icosahedron capsids make them surprisingly cute for such merciless viruses.
    Thankfully, they are incredibly nice to us.

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    1. Thank you! I’ve always thought so too – they are so charismatic for such deadly predator. I think we don’t appreciate yet how nice to us they really are: I worked briefly with a scientist who was exploring the idea that our guts have evolved to host some phages to ward off dangerous bacteria in food and keep our microbiome in balance. The work continues!

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