Field of Science

Dawkins' Genius of Darwin

I just discovered that there is a new three-part series, The Genius of Charles Darwin, that was broadcast on UK Channel 4. I tried to buy the episodes on iTunes, but they are only available in the UK. Luckily they are all posted on YouTube.

Below is the first part (of five) of the first episode, available on YouTube.

You can read more about the episodes and find more links at

Sexy paper just out in PLoS ONE

My lab has taken its initial journey on the PLoS ONE train.

Yesterday, our paper entitled "An Expanded Inventory of Conserved Meiotic Genes Provides Evidence for Sex in Trichomonas vaginalis" was published in PLoS ONE. It's a updated and detailed report on the ongoing work in my lab to generate and curate an "inventory" of genes involved in meiosis that are present across major eukaryotic lineages. This paper focuses on the protist, Trichomonas vaginalis, an organism not known to have a sexual phase in its life cycle.

Here is the Abstract:
Meiosis is a defining feature of eukaryotes but its phylogenetic distribution has not been broadly determined, especially among eukaryotic microorganisms (i.e. protists)—which represent the majority of eukaryotic ‘supergroups’. We surveyed genomes of animals, fungi, plants and protists for meiotic genes, focusing on the evolutionarily divergent parasitic protist Trichomonas vaginalis. We identified homologs of 29 components of the meiotic recombination machinery, as well as the synaptonemal and meiotic sister chromatid cohesion complexes. T. vaginalis has orthologs of 27 of 29 meiotic genes, including eight of nine genes that encode meiosis-specific proteins in model organisms. Although meiosis has not been observed in T. vaginalis, our findings suggest it is either currently sexual or a recent asexual, consistent with observed, albeit unusual, sexual cycles in their distant parabasalid relatives, the hypermastigotes. T. vaginalis may use meiotic gene homologs to mediate homologous recombination and genetic exchange. Overall, this expanded inventory of meiotic genes forms a useful “meiosis detection toolkit”. Our analyses indicate that these meiotic genes arose, or were already present, early in eukaryotic evolution; thus, the eukaryotic cenancestor contained most or all components of this set and was likely capable of performing meiotic recombination using near-universal meiotic machinery.
Here are my impressions of publishing in PLoS ONE (so far)...

  • It was fast. Submission to acceptance was less than a month. It took us longer to revise the final copy than to gain initial acceptance.
  • The PLoS editorial staff were very accommodating and helpful throughout the process. In particular, they quickly transferred our manuscript between other PLoS journals (where it was initially rejected).
  • The review process was great. In this case, only one reviewer was contacted. S/he liked the paper, and gave some suggestions for improvement that were left up to us to incorporate. We heeded some, but not all of the advice given.
  • It was (fairly) inexpensive. The "page charges" ($1125) were ~40% less than those levied for a similar non-OA journal that we have published in recently.
  • There was no opportunity given for making corrections to proofs. I have already identified an issue with one of the tables that would have been corrected in proof had there been an opportunity. There are always a few things that the author can notice that the copy editors (however talented they are) might miss. Why not add the author as a final checker?
  • The Journal Management System (for e-submission and tracking) is a bit too complicated for my taste. It takes quite a while (1+ hour) to get all of the information pasted into the form. I may just need to get to used to this level of front-end effort. However, as noted above, the journal staff helped me by moving all of the manuscript info from one journal to another. If not, it would have been painful to repeat.
  • As of this posting, our paper has not yet appeared in the listing of papers published yesterday. I assume (and hope) that this is a small and non-frequent oversight, but an annoying one when it's my paper!
I think that the PROS much outweigh the CONS in this case. Direct any comments on the paper itself to the PLoS ONE site.