What's in a Name?
Open AccessPublished:August 26, 2016DOI:
      When one assumes the editorship of a big journal like JBC, there are a lot of questions worth thinking about. One of the more basic questions I've been pondering relates to the journal title. The Journal of Biological Chemistry was founded in 1905, more than 110 years ago, and while the journal has witnessed and reported on stupendous progress in the molecular and cellular basis of biological processes, its name has remained the same. This is remarkable longevity for a journal title in a field that moves rapidly. Is there any need for a tune-up? Does the term “biological chemistry” continue to mean something to scientists? Do people even expand the abbreviation “JBC” into individual words anymore? Do people draw a distinction between chemical biology, biochemistry, and biological chemistry? Most importantly, does its name make it clear to researchers whether their science is welcome at JBC?
      In fact, quite frequently prospective authors ask whether a given field or scientific area “belongs in” or “falls under the purview of” JBC. My view, perhaps because of my own interdisciplinary training, is that JBC should welcome all good science that seeks to elucidate the molecular and cellular basis of life processes. This means that papers published in JBC can fall under the umbrellas of not only biological chemistry, chemical biology, or biochemistry, defined as you wish, but also structural biology, molecular biology, cell biology, systems biology, microbiology, glycobiology, epigenetics, computational biology, proteomics, genomics, and so on. The outcome of this focus on approach, rather than on a particular topical area, is that JBCis truly a melting pot for scientists across disciplines. Publishing in JBC gives you the opportunity to reach researchers who may have orthogonal training but share the goal of getting to the mechanistic heart of a biological question; JBC publishes science motivated by biology, enabled by chemistry. This is surely what the founders of JBC had in mind when they named the journal, and frankly, I think they got it right.
      But much has changed in 110 years, hasn't it? Indeed, there have been myriad advances in the tools and capabilities we can deploy to interrogate and manipulate biological systems. We might need to remind ourselves that at their cores, they are all based on chemistry and chemical understanding. Recent powerful molecular biology methods such as CRISPR techniques are of course chemical, as are ribosome profiling, proteomic mass spectrometry, deep sequencing, single-molecule fluorescence, cryo-electron microscopy, etc. Computational tools derived from chemical principles enable simulation of large molecular assemblies or prediction of the behaviors of complex networks. In addition, the nature of the biological questions we can ask has risen in complexity, and we have at our disposal an impressive and growing array of well-characterized and manipulable biological model systems, from single cells to tissue models to model organisms. It is stunning what is possible. Yet, all of this power must be harnessed in the quest for in-depth mechanistic understanding. This is where JBC lives. Motivated by biology, and enabled by chemistry, JBC is building on its venerable past, while simultaneously looking to an exciting future made possible by these advances.
      To remain a go-to journal for biological chemistry, as articulated in the paragraphs above, JBC must be responsive to the needs of its readers and authors and position itself to seize opportunities presented by emerging new scientific advances. You will see some changes at JBC that are designed to help it fulfill this role. One of the strategic changes we've made is the creation of a new “Scientific Editor” position at JBC, with the goal of improving reader and author experience with the journal. Our first Scientific Editor, Catherine Goodman, trained at both Ph.D. and postdoctoral levels as a chemical biologist and has had extensive experience in scientific publishing, having served as an editor at Nature Chemical Biology for nearly a decade. Catherine's touch on the readability of manuscripts, her communication with the community about the strengths of JBC, her interactions with prospective authors, and much more are already having an impact.
      Other new faces will be appearing among the Associate Editors and on the Editorial Board of JBC as we seek to retain expertise in areas of current submitted manuscripts and to anticipate and attract future submissions in burgeoning areas in biological chemistry, while ensuring that we offer the appropriate expertise for the review process in these new areas. The new appointees are all committed to JBC and its future vigor.
      Another change that you will see in the near future is an indication of JBC's commitment to provide as transparent a review process as possible. Going forward, by unanimous agreement of the Associate Editors, the name of the Associate Editor who managed the review of a paper will be listed on every publication.
      I also remind you of two other recently implemented changes: JBC now welcomes papers reporting new methods, tools, or databases that enable scientists to elucidate the molecular and cellular bases of biological processes. We've also been working on making the review process faster so that your best science can appear with minimal delay: Results of high significance may be published as Accelerated Communications, with a review turnaround of 5 days and minimal revisions.
      Although JBC is changing in an effort to better serve its readers and authors, its overarching ethos will not change: As a baseline, our review standards require papers to be rigorous with clear and complete presentation of high quality, compelling data. Moreover, JBC seeks to publish scientific research that is at the vanguard: reporting new breakthroughs, stimulating new models, describing new paradigms, introducing novel methods that open new doors, and revealing new mechanistic insights to biological phenomena. We remain true to this commitment, as the founders intended.