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A look ahead with GENETICS Editor in Chief Howard Lipshitz

Headshot of Howard Lipshitz

Stepping up to the helm of a journal like GENETICS is no easy task, but Howard Lipshitz is ready for the challenge.

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GENETICS and GSA have been a part of Lipshitz’s career from the very start. “I joined the Society in 1979 as a student member so that I could get a monthly copy of GENETICS, which I used to read from cover to cover,” he says. 

In the years since, he has served as an organizer for the Annual Drosophila Research Conference, the GSA Journals Publications Committee Chair, and an editor for G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics. He began as an Associate Editor at the journal’s launch in 2011 before becoming a Senior Editor in 2016. His editorial experience at G3, combined with editorial work at other journals as well as books, gave Lipshitz a preview of the work involved in becoming Editor in Chief.

“For me, it’s a service to the Society. Scientific publishing is undergoing a lot of changes, and it seemed to me that my experience could contribute to GENETICS’ continued success in the changing environment.”

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A journal with the history of GENETICS might easily fall prey to resting on its laurels and living in the past—but Lipshitz is committed to avoiding that fate. With a proven track record of innovation, a strong focus on training early career researchers in peer review, and an ongoing effort to increase representation on the editorial board, GENETICS is a 21st-century journal.

“It’s crucial for GENETICS to review and accept papers that represent the cutting edge of the field. It isn’t the same journal it was 50 to 100 years ago—although I do sometimes worry that some folks in the community might still think that GENETICS is ‘just’ the journal where you publish screens. We need to emphasize that GENETICS is interested in research that covers the full breadth of the field, including molecular studies and genome-wide analyses. We definitely want to attract authors who might not have previously thought to publish with us—we are a peer-led, peer-reviewed, society-based, not-for-profit journal. These should all be strong pluses for authors looking for a home for their research findings.”

In fact, GENETICS is keenly interested in increasing its profile internationally and plans to leverage its new partnership with Oxford University Publishing (OUP) toward that end. As a Canada-based scientist, Lipshitz knows firsthand that sometimes those outside the US might not feel that GENETICS is “their” journal.

“I plan to continue internationalizing the editorial board, and I am excited to work with OUP to increase our visibility around the world. As we look at the composition of our editorial board, it’s also extremely important to work on better reflecting the diversity of those who practice genetics. We have an incredible group of expert editors, and we’re always looking to add new voices to the board.”

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During his PhD at Yale, Lipshitz’ research focused on Drosophila developmental neurogenetics. He followed this with molecular analyses of the first long noncoding RNA—from the Drosophila Bithorax Complex—during his postdoc at Stanford. As a faculty member at CalTech, the University of Toronto, and Zhejiang University, he has studied post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression in Drosophila. Over a storied four-decade career, Lipshitz has watched the field and its journals grow and develop.

“Since publishing now happens online, fewer people read the whole journal, which means they might be less likely to encounter work that isn’t directly related to their own research area. That is its own challenge; we have amazing access to information and papers and research we never would’ve had before, but in some ways, it’s narrowed the science we read and think about.”

Lipshitz is confident that the GSA’s partnership with OUP will help GENETICS address this obstacle. With OUP’s expertise and resources, GENETICS will work to develop ways to help scientists discover interesting science outside their direct field in hopes of broadening scholarly interest.

“I think that GENETICS is at the cutting edge of scholarly publishing. It’s often been an early adopter of new publishing technologies and has led in many ways, including being the first journal to partner with bioRxiv as well as establishing links to model organism databases, among many others. Being partnered with OUP will keep us at the cutting edge and give us opportunities to innovate.”

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Connecting the past to the present is a theme at GENETICS. In the grand scheme of science, genetics remains a relatively young field, and it has undergone an incredible expansion since the mid-twentieth century with the rise of molecular genetics and subsequently genomics. Geneticists and genomicists find themselves with tools and insights that seemed fantastical just a few decades ago.

A field that began with classic studies in a handful of model organisms has evolved into one that interrogates genetic processes in a wide variety of experimental systems and uses new technologies to generate systems-level data more quickly and less expensively than ever before.

“I think that the convergence of classical genetics, molecular genetics, and genomics has really led to insights that no one field alone could’ve reached.”

The blurring of the lines between subfields of genetics and the increasingly interdisciplinary approach to many biological questions have seemingly set the trajectory for the next phase of scientific inquiry: one where basic science and experimental organism studies will continue to help us tease apart biological processes and allow us to apply that knowledge to the betterment of human lives.

“Speaking as an experimental geneticist, I think that one of the most remarkable things in the last 40 years has been the discovery that humans and other, simpler organisms are basically put together using a conserved genetic machinery. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it’s not something anyone thought about at that time. When I was a graduate student studying Drosophila neurogenetics, we thought we’d derive general principles about how nervous systems are built. We definitely didn’t have the sense then that conservation would go all the way down to specific molecules and gene regulatory networks. But that indeed turns out to be the case: when you study model organisms, you derive lessons for human biology.”

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As he begins his tenure as the 17th Editor in Chief of GENETICS this month, Lipshitz has hit the ground running putting plans in place to uphold the scientific rigor and tradition of the journal as he looks to the future to ensure that GENETICS continues to evolve in a way that serves its authors, readers, and community.

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