Can you catch a wild bacteria-killing virus (called a phage) and grow it in lab?

Phages forming little round "colonies" (aka "plaques") and clearings in a background "lawn" of bacterial cells that they've infected and killed (false colored pink for pizzaz).

Viruses that infect bacteria (called phages) are all around us, but we have very few that kill bacteria in our mouths in culture to study - can you help us catch some? 

Project is Not Currently Available

This project has reached full capacity for the current term. Please check back next semester for updates.

Project description

Our mouths are teeming with hundreds of species of bacteria. As they live their lives, these bacteria are impacting ours, sometimes helping us stay healthy, and other times making us sick. To better understand the bacteria in our mouths, and how they impact us, we need to understand their predators and partners - and these include viruses. The viruses that infect bacteria are called bacteriophages, or "phages" for short, and the goal of this project is to work in a small team to attempt to catch phages that infect oral bacteria. You will be working in the lab, mixing oral bacterial cultures with local Buffalo sewage, to see if you can catch a phage from the sewage that kills the bacteria. To learn more about the lab, check out our webpage at

Project outcome

The end result of this project will be a scientific poster, put together with your team mates in lab, describing the methods you used to try to catch phages for oral bacteria, and the phages you found. 

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment This opportunity is best for someone who is interested in exploring the possibility of a career in research science and might like to stay and keep working in the lab throughout their undergrad degree
Start time

Fall (Aug/September)


In-person, remote, or hybrid? In-Person Project
Level of collaboration Small group project (2-3 students)

Academic Credit

Work Study

Who is eligible All undergraduate students

Project mentor

Kathryn Kauffman

Assistant Professor

Oral Biology

Phone: (716) 829-5830


Start the project

  1. Email the project mentor using the contact information above to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor.)
  2. After you receive approval from the mentor to start this project, click the button to start the digital badge. (Learn more about ELN's digital badge options.) 

Preparation activities

Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase. 

  1. Watch the Kurzgesagt video (7 minutes) called "The Deadliest Being on Planet Earth – The Bacteriophage" on YouTube, for an intro on phages []

  2. Watch the BBC Documentary video (48 minutes) called "The Virus that Cures" on YouTube, for an intro to the history of phage therapy []

  3.  Read this paper called "Streamlining standard bacteriophage methods for higher throughput" on the agar overlay method you will be using []

  4.  Watch the video (3 min) in the paper above that demonstrates one way that the agar overlay method you will be using is applied (here showing purification of phage plaques). 


Dept of Oral Biology, microbiology, bacteria, virus, phage, lab, laboratory, microbiome,