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!