Meet Howy Jacobs
The new Editor in Chief for Fly
Meet the Editor
Howy Jacobs is Professor of Molecular Biology at Tampere University in Finland. Before joining Fly, he served for 6 years (2009-2014) as Chief Editor of EMBO Reports.
He took up the role of Editor-in-Chief for Fly in July 2019. We asked Howy about his plans for the future of the journal, how he thinks it assists the international research community, and his advice to early career researchers.
As the Editor for Fly, what are your plans for the next year?
I plan to make the journal a lot more visible and develop it as the voice for the community of scientists who use Drosophila in their research - even those who are not studying flies at all, but whose research is inspired by primary findings from Drosophila. The work reported in Fly is already of very high quality, but what is needed is to drive home its importance and relevance to wider issues in biology, to a much broader audience.
How do you think Fly contributes to the research community?
We are at the crossroads of many disciplines: physiology, evolution, developmental biology, immunity, ecology, pathology, neuroscience, genomics - to name only some. So we also have a special interest and responsibility to bring our science to much wider public attention: not just as a tool for curing diseases or inventing useful 'stuff', but as a crucial element of explaining 'the human condition'. Although we all tend to anthropomorphize a lot about our favourite experimental organism, such a device can also help us explain to the wider world why it's important to do what we do.
What are the current challenges facing the community?
The idea has taken root in some quarters that 'we don't need model organisms any more' because we can engineer any genome at will. However, I believe the opposite is true: to test any hypothesis about biology, we need to frame the question in a system or context sufficiently rich in content. So I predict that Drosophila as a model organism has hardly begun to come into its own. Studying flies is also far simpler, quicker, cheaper, more justifiable and usually more interpretable than using mammals. Nevertheless, the message needs to be constantly repeated and driven home. I see one of the challenges to the whole Fly community to make this case much more stridently to funders, editors, policymakers and the wider scientific community. Beyond that, we are all facing growing threats from populists, conspiracy theorists and those who reject scientific findings because they find them inconvenient, or counter to their perceived short-term interests. Perhaps we have inadvertently contributed to this by raising public expectations of what science can achieve for humanity, when the reality is of course a long painstaking slog to get to the truth and use it to address global problems. On both scores, we need to redress the balance.
What projects are you currently working on?
For the past 10 years or so, Howylab has been mainly focused on studying the alternative respiratory chain enzymes found in bacteria and in 'lower eukaryotes': in particular, transferring them to more complex organisms from which they have been lost during the course of evolution, i.e. flies, mammals and even human cells, and then using them as tools to investigate and potentially alleviate the consequences of mitochondrial dysfunction. But I have just had a new project funded, where we are following up our recent observation that mitochondria are much hotter than expected: indeed, over 10 ºC hotter than the rest of the cell. It's maybe not surprising that the hub of cellular energy metabolism should be hot. But the consequences of mitochondrial heat production and its potential biological significance are largely unexplored. We will be using Drosophila as the main system to address some of the issues arising: so right now I am recruiting skilled and motivated postdocs to take the project forward. Hopefully some are reading this right now and will get in touch.
What would your advice be to early career researchers and/or students?
Go for a career in science if it is your dream, but recognize that it is very hard work, and you need a fair dose of luck as well to succeed. But also be aware that there are many important and rewarding careers in science besides frontline research in an academic lab, or climbing the ladder to become a professor. So getting a scientific qualification such as a PhD should be seen not only as a step towards those traditional goals, but also as a passport to an exciting, creative and valuable job in one of many allied fields - including, of course, scientific publication and communications.