Green shoots in a growing field

Plant Biotechnology Journal
November 19, 2004

Though nearly GM-free, a biotech journal has made an impact on Ian Moore.

The aim of Plant Biotechnology Journal is to be a high-impact publication that emphasises the importance of plant biotechnology in a way that more general biotechnology journals are perceived not to. Its stated aims and scope are to publish world-class primary research and review articles in plant biotechnology and applied plant biology across all industrial sectors.

Thus, it encompasses agriculture, horticulture, food and food processing, paper, pulp and timber, pharmaceuticals, medical, phytoremediation and marine applications and other non-food uses of plants. Experimental approaches that are encouraged include molecular analyses of gene structure and expression that may assist breeding and engineering of crops; the development, field trialing and regulation of transgenic technologies; and physiological, developmental and "-omics" approaches that are relevant to understanding industrial plants. Papers are required to do more than report an improvement to an established procedure and should address the biological significance of the technology, although presumably the applied significance is of importance, too. So, after almost two volumes, does Plant Biotechnology Journal meet its stated aims?

Scanning the contents pages of the first ten issues (72 primary research articles and four reviews), it seems that most of the scientific and industrial areas listed in the aims and scope have been covered.

Typically, the articles report proof of concept, though most (45 out of 68) are conducted with crop species rather than model systems, and five include data from the field.

The journal's editorial policy is to encourage submissions and readership from both industrial and academic research laboratories and, in the first volume, 15 per cent of papers were from the former. This reflects the composition of the journal's editorial and advisory boards, where scientists from the private sector are outnumbered seven to one. As for the quality of the work reported, I found articles of direct interest to me in almost every issue, and in each case the work was performed to a standard commensurate with the claims being made.

The journal does not yet have full citation data to support this anecdotal evaluation. Nevertheless, some home-spun analysis of the first three issues for which citation data are available suggests it is attracting significant papers. For example, the average number of citations per article from this period is 1.7, which compares favourably with 0.21 for Plant Breeding , another recently launched applied plant science journal, and 1.2 and 1.4 respectively for Transgenic Research and the Journal of Biotechnology , two general biotechnology journals that publish similar work and have impact factors of about 2.5. Thus, although a "dedicated plant biotechnology journal" clearly runs the risk of becoming a scientific ghetto ignored by the wider biotech community, the ability to target interested readers may well sustain a competitive citation rate and impact factor. It may be significant that, in my case, several articles of interest were not picked up by keywords searches but only by scanning the contents pages - so while I will be scanning the contents pages of Plant Biotechnology Journal , I rarely do this for any but the highest-impact general biotech journals.

Yet, if Plant Biotechnology Journal is to achieve its stated aim of being the first choice for authors, it will have to take on established plant biology journals such as Plant Physiology and The Plant Journal , both of which carry "Technical advance" or biotechnology sections that cover similar territory. The relatively high impact factors of these journals, and of some more general journals, is likely to remain a powerful attraction for many authors in the foreseeable future. But Plant Biotechnology Journal fills a niche that is not served by other plant science periodicals and is welcome for that.

The journal carries reviews in almost half of its issues, and those I have read have been timely and informative. Surprisingly, perhaps, for a journal whose discipline is influenced as much by political and social developments as by scientific events, the first ten issues contain no review, news or opinion articles covering the genetic modification debate or other sociopolitical impacts of, or on, plant biotechnology. Two research papers have, however, dealt with risk assessment and regulatory issues surrounding field application of GM crops.

The journal has attracted submissions from authors in more than 20 countries, indicating that it has an international profile. Nevertheless, there is probably an over-representation from the UK. This again reflects the composition of the editorial and advisory boards, with ten from the UK, nine from the US and 12 from the rest of the world. Editors and contributions from Japan seem rather underrepresented (none and two respectively). Production quality is high and costs are low, and the average time for review of submitted manuscripts was 34 days for volume one. The time from acceptance to publication in print is, however, rather long (five to six months in 2004).

So, is Plant Biotechnology Journal a worthwhile addition to the groaning shelves of financially stretched academic libraries? Well, a few years ago, when asked by a Blackwell commissioning editor about possible future titles, my reflex reaction was, "Please, no more new journals." A year or two later, Plant Biotechnology Journal appeared. I now have one of my own articles published in the journal and regularly scan its contents page.

Ian Moore is senior research fellow in plant sciences, Oxford University.

Plant Biotechnology Journal

Editor - Keith Edwards
Publisher - Blackwell, bimonthly
Price - Institutions £403.00. Individuals £76.00
ISSN - ISSN 1467 7644. 1467 7652 (online)

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