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Kevin Tyler Q&A

The Editor-in-Chief of Virulence

Meet the Editor

We sat down with our Editor-In-Chief, Kevin Tyler, to ask a few questions about Virulence, including the challenges within the research community and the benefits of publishing open access.

Here is what he had to say. 



What are the current challenges facing the research community?

Inequity – a revolution in communication and the adoption of a single language as the global language of science has ensured that researchers' scientific advancement is not specific to any one geography, gender or ethnicity and that where intelligent people with sufficient resources exist, high quality research can and is carried out. This makes the research community a wonderfully rich and cosmopolitan one. In most countries society is technophilic, and generally scientists and engineers are well respected researchers whilst not always particularly lucrative! Considerable progress continues to be made in very many areas – perhaps more and from a wider range of sources than at any other time in human history.  However, set against this is that research can be deeply frustrating because it is driven not just by inspiration and dedication but by resources, and the distribution of resources is hugely inequitable, as they are generally allocated in the short-term and often arbitrarily.

Recent political shifts have seen for many a lifetime of dedication towards solving major problems lost almost overnight with the global shift in politics from a liberal consensus and internationalist perspective to more narrow and parochial politics having a dramatic effect on science budgets. For many researchers funding has disappeared, and research networks painstakingly assembled over decades have been decimated. For many promising young researchers, the opportunities to get a start towards answering the pressing problems of today are simply not there. For the field of infectious disease and microbiology, emerging research powerhouses like Brazil and India are suffering severe setbacks, and even in the USA, Europe and Australia funding for such work is under threat. As funding is lost it tends to become concentrated in the hands of the few and most accomplished/established, although actually this is not where it needs to be focused to drive progress most effectively. Against this kind of a funding backdrop, it is difficult to provide a secure environments for researchers to flourish and for research to be sustained and translated effectively.

How do you think Virulence contributes to the research community?

Ten years ago, Virulence was launched into a landscape of microbiology and infectious disease journals which was quite ghettoized, where reductionism reigned supreme and where contextualization of a communicable disease agent was largely ignored. A microbe was either a pathogen or it wasn’t, a particular pathogen caused a particular disease in a particular host/tissue by a particular mechanism. The consensus was that one pathogen, one disease, one diagnostic test, one treatment and ideally one specific vaccine was what was required and anything else was just confusing for all involved, clinicians in particular.

Virulence began to argue something else – it said the context was all important to the disease and it shouldn’t and couldn’t be ignored. It said sometime a particular agent in a host causes a disease and sometimes it doesn’t. It said the characteristics of the agent was important, but so were the characteristics of the host and also the environment that the host and agent were occupying. It said communicable diseases were complex and couldn’t be easily reduced to binary outcomes like the presence or absence of a disease or microbe.

In the past 10 years this approach has become more mainstream, and Virulence has continued to act as an advocate for all aspects of Microbial Pathogenesis. It’s articles describe not just the agent of infection or the host response but the contextualisation of the infection. It has championed particular systems for modeling pathology and has served to counter to the reductionism advanced in other journals in the sector. Recently it has become an open access journal, offering free and immediate access to all its articles and reinforcing its utility in directly and rapidly communicating insights and best practice relating to the increasingly diversified toolbox available for managing communicable diseases to where it needs to be translated.

How do you see open access publication shaping research?

The internet has transformed global communication of all kinds of information, which it has effectively made it free to all and instantaneously available. The public who pay for scientific research through taxation would like the research also to be instantaneously available and free to all, but they would also like it to be reliable.

Open access has been a mechanism by which scientific communications could be conformed to take advantage of the internet whilst ensuring that the work communicated remained rigorously validated.

As a prospective author, what are the benefits of publishing in an open access journal like Virulence?

Open access simply affords universal access to your articles, and publishing with an established journal/publisher means that the work benefits from being highly visible and appropriately indexed so it is readily found by the maximum number of people. This means anyone interested in, or affected by, the condition concerned can find and access the article via the internet from anywhere in the world. For the investigators this means more interactions with more people relevant to their interests, a raised profile, potential for collaborations, and so on. Even in terms of personal publishing metrics it is generally held, and indeed almost tautological, that an article which is published in this way is more cited than one that is held behind a paywall or only accessible in print.

What does that mean for infectious disease research?

Infectious diseases are of most acute concern in LMICs outside of the reach of traditional publication, subscription articles and paywalls, where health practitioners and scientists fight for the latest knowledge and techniques for dealing with the diseases they are encountering - and in sharp contrast to their OECD counterparts where such diseases have dwindled as effective interventions have been established, validated, communicated and deployed.

Since the start of open access, the inequality in communication of medically relevant information has changed positively in a way that has surprised even those of us initially involved in the movement. An anticipated digital divide has been largely bridged by the presence of robust mobile internet provision in even the most impoverished of communities. Professionals and patients globally are able to access relevant literature for the first time. Most significantly numbers of deaths from communicable diseases, particularly parasite and vector borne diseases world-wide have begun to fall year on year and some of the great historic diseases are even realistically targeted for eradication.

While open access publishing cannot take credit for such progress in its entirety, nevertheless, this quiet revolution in a publishing modality has unquestionably made a substantial contribution, and publications such as PloS NTD, Parasites and Vectors, and Malaria Journal have played important roles in the past few years. As we begin to think about the significance of context in devising and integrating strategies for disease interventions, therapeutic, prophylactics, diagnostics and control programs, free access to publications in virulence is highly desirable and marks the beginning of a dialog about solutions to global health problems which was previously precluded by the lack of access by the affected communities.

What’s the most interesting/innovative paper you’ve seen in the journal?

I think there are a few areas that Virulence has really excelled in, and there have been some exceptional papers in each area. It a bit difficult to compare between them because it’s a case of comparing apples and oranges as they say. Clearly highlighting the emergence of the carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae has been an important area for the journal, characterization of model systems like Galleria Mellonella and the dissection of the pathogenesis of a range of fungal pathogens, but the ones that I have really enjoyed have been the ones looking at the complexity of interplay between different microbes in hosts. Seminal articles examining the role of microbiota as a reservoir for antibiotic resistance (Sommer and Colleagues, 2010), and more recently in understanding and intervening in the concerted mechanisms associated with mixed biofilm formation (Vilela and Colleagues, 2015; Barnes and colleagues, 2017) .

What subject areas are you most excited to cover in the journal?

I think like most scientists, I love the eureka moments – the point at which a profound understanding of the pathogen and system being investigated and application of often new technology enables a novel observation which answers a longstanding question or resolves a longstanding problem. So at Virulence we are excited to ask, what makes a pathogen pathogenic and how can we apply this knowledge to improve outcomes for communicable diseases globally? In spite of this focusing lens, we have a very broad scope - we effectively umbrella microbiology and infectious disease, drawing together scientists and clinicians from infection biology, microbial pathogenesis, genomics and metagenomics, diagnostics, vaccinology, phamacology and public health across the gamut of communicable disease. My feeling is that these disciplines represents the roads we travel, but what excites me more than which road that has been taken is the destination that has been reached.

What would your advice be to early career researchers and/or students?

One of the most important bits of advice, ironically, is that once you have reached a good level of competency don’t seek to follow advice from others – at least not too closely, try to make your own path.  No-one can appreciate the peculiarity of your own circumstance as well as you can and no-one is as expert as you in the system you are investigating. Follow your own interests and your own ideas, and follow your results to their natural conclusions. That said, you should aim to be very self-critical and invite criticisms from others of your work wherever possible. In the end the best science come from those which are able to make the evidence for their conclusions water-tight.

As well as being master of your discipline, be a pleasure and a delight to work with – social skills are required in science, which is almost entirely collaborative and very often multi-disciplinary these days. To answer important research questions you will likely need to collaborate with other experts and they will only want to do that in a reasonable way if you are able to establish durable, trust-based relationships. Finally, the advice I need to take more of myself - find a way to balance writing and research activity,. The ratio of these activities may vary at different times in your career, but it is important to be able to do both sustainably, and, if necessary, to schedule time for your core commitments - but don’t let some predominate to the exclusion of the others or get distracted by other opportunities. There is almost never a time in a researchers career that you shouldn’t be accruing and analyzing data, preparing manuscripts and seeking funding, whatever else you may be doing.

This Q&A was originally hosted on Twitter. Click here to read the feed on @tanfbiosci.

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