Sunday, 6 July 2014

A Dialogue with Professor Judy Jernstedt about Botany and 100 years of American J of Botany

Cover- American J Botany; 101(1)
American Journal of Botany, was launched in 1914. Since then over a period of hundred years AJB has published approximately 16500 articles, with an average of more than 160 and 13 articles per year and month respectively. Many articles published in AJB are highly cited and are from various sub-disciplines of botany. It possess the pride of publishing many breakthrough research publication which were significant in understanding the structure, function and further advancement of mechanism in plants.

To celebrate the completion of a century and stepping forward in its second century of publication, AJB will feature monthly invited AJB Centennial Review Papers. It will also bring a special issue, 'Speaking of Food: Connecting Basic and Applied Science' which probably will consists the paper presented at colloquium during Botany-2013 Conference.

In 2005 Professor Judy Jernstedt was appointed as the first female Editor-in-Chief of American Journal of Botany, who is also the present Editor-in-Chief. Rabish Chandra, Scientific Curator, Indian Botanists spoke to Professor Judy Jernstedt about botany in general and 100 years of American Journal of Botany in particular. The excerpt of the dialogue are reproduced below.

How do you summarize 100 years Journey of American Journal of Botany

It has been 100 years of change--changing emphases, changing techniques, changing styles of writing, changing reliance on technology, and changing expectations of authors, librarians, and readers. The very first paper published in the AJB was about fungal development. In the same issue, this was followed by papers about the inheritance of floral morphology, another mycology paper, and a paper about internode abscission. Throughout the first 100 volumes of AJB, these topics or something nearly identical have been revisited about every 20 years or so as techniques improve and new scientific questions arise. In fact, that is one of the interesting things about looking through a century of journal papers--the same phenomena are studied over and over with ever more exacting (and usually more expensive) techniques.

In the last century botany has undergone a change of several folds. How do you see those changes with future prospect of botany? 

Prof. Judy Jernstedt
It is safe to say that research in botany in the future will continue to follow the developments in biomedical research, where technical innovations (not necessarily conceptual advances) seem to originate. In the near future, and as hard as it is to believe, that means all sub-disciplines of botany will be touched by rapid advances in DNA sequencing technology, genomics and bioinformatics. Ecological genetics is already here and comparative genomics in an ecological context isn't far away. Although not well funded, plant systematics and phylogeny is very much devoted to analysis of DNA sequences, as you know. The real challenge of the future will be keeping alive and supporting organism-level knowledge and research. If there are no longer any scientists who "know grasses," or spiders or jelly fungi or red algae, human knowledge of our world is no longer increasing and what we already have accumulated is in danger of being lost. This is doubly tragic since there have never been greater threats to biodiversity, biological habitats, and ecosystems. It is very discouraging to think that many elements of life on earth will be lost before they are even known to have existed. But to summarize, we as botanists must be open to non-botanical technical advances, but we who study and know plants must also be our own best advocates for the green part of biology, upon which humanity depends.

As a student of botany, I feel that there is a shortage of 'field botanists' and botany is becoming more confined to laboratory. How do you co-relate the field botany with laboratory experiments?

 An emerging area of research in North America and Europe is ecological genetics, as I mentioned above. It is true the emphasis now is on model species and crop plants, but researchers in this discipline are beginning to appreciate what ecology and systematics can offer to their studies. They are coming to realize that people who know plants in the field have a special kind of knowledge that can only be acquired by spending time in the field. I would encourage field botanists to offer to collaborate with the lab botanists--to learn the lab botany techniques and their way of thinking and just as importantly, to share their field botany knowledge and techniques. One outcome for the field botanists is that they will be forced to think explicitly about hypotheses, appropriate controls, replications, and rigorous data analysis and interpretation. This will not be a bad thing, because fairly or not, field botany is often perceived as lacking rigor. To the extent that it can be done given its complicated and multitudinous variation and variables, field work framed, conducted, and presented the way lab botanists do their research will increase the respect lab botanists have for their field botanists colleagues and for the work the field botanists do. One practical approach is to require all young students of botany/plant biology to have courses in both field and lab research techniques, if this is not already the case.

Any message you would like to convey to the readers, subscribers and authors of American J of Botany through Indian Botanists?

The message from the founding of the AJB is that the journal is for all botanists in all disciplinary areas and in all regions of the globe. My message from the beginning of my term as Editor-in-Chief is that everyone who works on plants should consider submitting his or her best research to the AJB. As described in the Scope and Aims of the Journal, AJB requires authors to frame their research questions and discuss their results in terms of major questions of plant biology. Papers are evaluated for innovations in, significant contributions to, and noteworthy advances in the theoretical or conceptual bases of the subdisciplines of plant biology, and/or novel insights of general relevance to fundamental questions of biology. Some keys to successful publication in AJB are careful framing and planning of the research, competent execution of the planned research, and insightful interpretation and discussion of the results. It helps to keep in mind why you are doing the specific research, why anyone else would care about your project and results, and what is it you have discovered or concluded that is important enough that other botanists need to know about.

Any comments for Botany and Botanists in India particular?

As plant scientists, we are often ignored and usually under-funded compared to biomedical scientists. Fame, fortune, and political power do not often flow to plant scientists, nor are those what motivate most of us. However, when one thinks about the greatest needs of humanity and our planet, adequate nutritious food and a safe and sustainable environment have to be at the top of the list. Knowledge of plants and conservation of plants and their habitats are integral to both of these human needs and botanists in the broadest sense are essential for these endeavors. Whatever we call ourselves--botanists, plant scientists, plant biologists, agronomists, horticulturist, plant geneticists/breeders, etc.)--we must be strong advocates for the work that needs to be done and for which we are uniquely qualified. Better than many, we know that every bite of food humans eat and every molecule of oxygen humans breathe comes directly or indirectly from plants. Therefore, it is up to us to educate the public and the policy makers about this, for the sake of the survival of the planet and its inhabitants. It won't be easy and the job will never be finished, but we must try.

As far as AJB goes, we have an Associate Editor, R. Geeta, at the University of Delhi, Department of Botany (Faculty of Science) who is deeply committed to Indian botanists, both young and established, and to science in India. If readers of the Indian Botanists are not acquainted with her, I suggest you, as a group or individually, introduce yourselves to her. She may have some thoughts about the questions you asked me and it might be interesting to see how her and my thinking compares.

Thank you very much for sharing your precious time from your busy schedule and interacting with Indian Botanists.

 Thank you for offering this opportunity to share information and thoughts about botany in general and the American Journal of Botany in particular.

Pic Courtesy: American Journal of Botany

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