Journal won't earn stripes if it treads water

五月 6, 2005

If you are a regular reader of newspaper science sections, you are unlikely to have missed the rise to global fame of the zebrafish. Danio rerio has long been a favourite of fish fanciers due to its attractive colouration and frugal lifestyle. In the 1970s, developmental biologists adopted it as their favourite model system. Since then, they have been devising an ingenious repertoire of genetic methods that, so far, has resulted in the identification of thousands of zebrafish mutants with developmental and behavioural defects. Moreover, the fish's genome is being sequenced at the Sanger Institute near Cambridge.

Now that this tiny fish is bred and investigated in hundreds of laboratories, the fruits of this worldwide effort are being harvested. Hence the arrival of a new journal in this field is not surprising. Zebrafish defines its goals as "dedicated to publishing research using zebrafish and other aquarium fish models for the study of vertebrate development, comparative genomics, toxicology and disease". Thus the title is slightly misleading because the journal covers several species of fish, among them the medaka ricefish, puffer fish, platyfish and goldfish.

The first four issues offer a notion of what this journal is and what it is not. To start with, on average only four original papers are presented per issue, ranging in topic from developmental biology and pharmacogenetics to genomics and stem-cell research. The greater part is dedicated to journalistic contributions, such as an interview section and meeting reports, and to reviews, dissertation summaries and a "Literature Watch".

Unfortunately, most readers may not often find an article of particular interest to them. But before you stop reading here, let me tell you that it is truly worthwhile to get hold of a copy.

First, I mostly enjoy the featured "investigator profiles". These are interviews with members of the editorial board, all of whom are leading experts in their fields of expertise with aquatic organisms, and touch on diverse topics such as their funding sources, scientific interests, recent findings and professional backgrounds.

Although this regular section is rather unusual for a journal, it can be quite motivating, and is always informative. Similarly, the reviews so far have covered portrayals of the projects and scientists behind the zebrafish research performed in Singapore and at the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Probably one of the most anticipated breakthroughs in fish research is the establishment of embryonic stem-cell work, which will ultimately make the identification of gene functions much easier, and Paul Collodi, editor-in-chief of Zebrafish , and his colleagues are working towards that goal. The presentation of papers and reviews from last year's Mount Desert Island Stem-Cell Symposium can therefore be seen as a significant addition to the last two issues of this journal. As well as these sections, a dozen or so dissertation summaries, published prior to the likely publication of resulting scientific papers, make interesting reading.

Other areas, however, could easily be improved; one could dispute the necessity of the Literature Watch section in an age of free online PubMed access, but sorting the recent fish literature by topic would be much more useful than alphabetically by first author. Also, I would like the publishers to consider that journals with changing front covers possibly appeal to many more readers and, at the same time, attract paper submissions by authors who are flattered to "get the cover".

While Zebrafish tries to establish itself, it seems to aim more in the direction of a useful and thematically diversified resource for those who work with fish. In fact, it occupies the vacancy left by the now-discontinued Zebrafish Monitor , a newsletter launched when the small community of zebrafish labs was expanding rapidly. Zebrafish is largely a home for scientific updates, meeting reports and features about people and projects. I would like to see more timely reviews that highlight key developments in fish research.

And indeed, these are exciting times - evolutionary biologists are embracing sticklebacks and cichlids as models to study the evolution of body anatomy and colouration at the level of individual genes, while deciphering the genome of a freshwater puffer fish has revealed, after 400 million years, how many chromosomes the common ancestor of man and fish is likely to have had and how its genes were arranged.

If Zebrafish could expand towards a wider audience, there might be more than enough room for a journal that is the home of fish model systems.

Gerrit Begemann is assistant professor of biology, Konstanz University, Germany.


Editor - Paul Collodi
Publisher - Mary Ann Liebert, quarterly
Price - Institutions $538.00, individuals $213.00
ISSN - 1545 8547

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