The big chief at Molecular Ecology Resources: Interviewing Shawn Narum

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What are the most exciting parts of doing science? The first look at results? The sheen of your publication finally in print? That initial foray out into the field?

What about the moment you figure out a way to make a good idea come to life?

If you’ve learned a new tool, a new technique, or new piece of software in the last few years, you likely ended up citing a paper from Molecular Ecology Resources (MER). The journal has undergone some big changes recently, and we asked its new Editor-in-Chief, Shawn Narum, to give us his perspective on the present and future of the journal.

Tell us about your work at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC)

I lead a research group involved in population and ecological genomics of multiple fish species in the Columbia River and Pacific Northwest USA.  We work at the interface of academic and applied research where genomic tools are utilized for long-term preservation of once abundant aquatic resources in this region.  In particular, species of Pacific salmon are a vital component of communities in the western USA ranging from California to Alaska and have sustained Native American tribes in the region for several centuries.  Salmon are keystone species in aquatic ecosystems in need of careful conservation, yet remain as some of the few remaining sources of wild caught food for human consumption.  Extensive research efforts have been underway for decades to better understand how to best conserve and manage this declining resource, and genomic tools have begun to contribute greatly.  Recent examples of our work include association mapping of important traits such as disease resistance (Campbell et al. 2014), testing for local adaptation in wild populations experiencing climate change (Narum et al. 2013), and evaluating fitness effects of supportive breeding (Hess et al. 2012).

This work has been a great match for me personally as I have always had a strong connection with aquatic systems and the fish that swim in them.  When I’m not at work, you can often find me on a river with my family and a fly rod in my hand.

Tip: Don't include any Big Fish stories in your cover letters.

Tip: Don’t include any Big Fish stories in your cover letters.

As Chief Editor of Molecular Ecology Resources (MER), can you describe the recent shifts that have taken place for the journal?

The primary focus of the journal is on the development of broad resources for the community of molecular ecologists.  The journal actually made this shift towards developing various types of resources several years ago as reflected by the change in the name in 2008, from Molecular Ecology Notes to Molecular Ecology Resources.  Instead of primer notes, we now publish a broad array of papers including computer programs, statistical and molecular advances, and extensive molecular resources.

Unfortunately, many people still associate MER with microsatellite primer notes, but we have not published a primer note in years!  However, this transition to broader resources has begun to take hold and has led to a dramatic increase in impact factor over the past few years, reaching 7.3 in 2012 and 5.6 in 2013.

Change in impact factor for MER

How has the drastic increase in impact factor over the last three years affected the journal?

This is obviously a positive direction for the journal, but also reflects how important the resources we publish are to the community of molecular ecologists.  Authors have begun to recognize that MER is a highly satisfying journal to publish their innovations that utilize spectacular advances in genomics technology in the last decade.  Contributions are increasing and have the editorial board scrambling at times, but overall we continue to maintain a relatively quick review process that averages a just over a month for original manuscripts.  Thus we are receiving some of the best resources that are being developed in our field.

What are some of the most exciting advances you’ve seen in the field since you’ve been Chief Editor? Any areas of research that you’re particularly excited about?

All things next-generation sequencing (NGS) have been stunning to observe and exciting to be involved with.  Just a few years ago, many of us working with non-model species found genome assemblies to be a distant dream, but here we are with so many genomes available including some of my favorite fish.  For many years, we’ve heard declarations of decreasing costs for genomics and I believe we are beginning to fully appreciate that in the field of molecular ecology.  There are abundant resources and tools now available for non-model species as NGS technology opens unlimited avenues of research.

I have particularly been excited about tools such as RAD-seq and RNA-seq to address compelling questions regarding ecological genomics and local adaptation. My lab has also just developed a protocol for amplicon sequencing called GT-seq (Genotyping-in-thousands by sequencing) that will dramatically reduce our costs and increase our ability to genotype large numbers of fish for our various projects.  The combination of tools that capitalize on NGS makes it a very exciting time, but the bioinformatics realm continues to be strained and will need to move forward very quickly.  I envision MER as a partner in helping advance and publish many bioinformatic tools.

What words of advice can you give for those scientists looking to publish in MER?

Great potential remains for new innovations in molecular techniques with NGS platforms and advancement of bioinformatics tools. Resources that are developed specifically for one lab or study species could have the potential to be adopted more broadly in the scientific community.  I encourage graduate students and post-docs to develop their resources to reach a larger audience and consider MER as an outlet for that work.

Not only does MER have a strong impact factor, but we have recently implemented more ways to promote the best innovations that we publish through highlighting articles as ‘From the Cover’ articles and providing accompanying ‘Perspectives’.  We want to help get the word out about all the innovative resources that are being developed.

Literature Cited

Campbell N.R., K. Overturf, R. Towner & S. R. Narum (2014). Association Mapping of Disease Resistance Traits in Rainbow Trout Using RAD Sequencing, G3, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1534/g3.114.014621

Hess M.A., Jason L. Vogel, Jeff J. Stephenson, Doug D. Nelson & Shawn R. Narum (2012). Supportive breeding boosts natural population abundance with minimal negative impacts on fitness of a wild population of Chinook salmon, Molecular Ecology, 21 (21) 5236-5250. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/mec.12046

Narum S.R., Kevin A. Meyer, Michael R. Miller & Ronald W. Hardy (2013). Thermal adaptation and acclimation of ectotherms from differing aquatic climates, Molecular Ecology, 22 (11) 3090-3097. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/mec.12240

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About Rob Denton

I'm a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UConn. I'm most interested in understanding the evolutionary/ecological consequences of strange reproduction in salamanders (unisexual Ambystoma). Topics I'm likely to write about: population and landscape genetics, mitonuclear interactions, polyploidy, and reptiles/amphibians.
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