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Interviews with the lab protocol community — insights from an Academic Editor and a reviewer

PLOS ONE has published a Lab Protocols Collection to highlight this new article type launched in early 2021. This collection showcases a set of peer-reviewed lab protocols across our broad scope, including cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, structural biology, and archaeology. We interviewed Academics Editors and reviewers from the community, in order to learn more about the importance of lab protocols in their field and their thoughts on the benefits of this article type for open science. We also discussed the future development of open science to conclude this community engagement.

Academic Editor Ruslan Kalendar (RK)

Dr. Ruslan Kalendar is an Adjunct Professor of Genetics at University of Helsinki (Helsingin Yliopisto), Finland. His interests are molecular genetics, with a particular focus on the evolution of the genome, and, in particular, mobile genetic elements.

Reviewer Alison Forrester (AF)

Dr. Alison Forrester is post-doctoral researcher at Institute Curie (Paris, Île-de-France), France. Her interests are autophagy, endoplasmic reticulum, ER-phagy and membrane trafficking.

What do you think are the benefits of lab protocols for open science?

RK: PLOS ONE journal in collaboration with has developed a unique and state-of-the-art platform for publishing lab protocols. This is a well-timed and useful innovation. The development of scientific knowledge is based on a variety of methodological approaches bordering on art. Because of the increasing complexity of scientific methods and their diversity, an appropriate forum or open science platform is needed, where the research community can present the best solution and point out the problems that may be encountered in other laboratories. Such a platform should of course be open, and in this form, it is really effective.

AF: Improving data reproducibility in research is one of today’s most important issues to address. Providing clear and detailed protocols, without limitation of words or space, is an effective way to communicate optimized protocols. This will directly help to improve data reproducibility between labs, as well as provide a thorough record of procedures that have been published in parallel. Improving communication of optimized protocols helps to drive robust research, allowing people to build their own research on already thorough studies, and not spend excessive time optimizing protocols based on poorly executed or explained protocols. 

How important are lab protocols in your field?

RK: In my research, I often encounter new problems for which solutions can be found in similar resources from other scientific publishers. Various publishers offer standard solutions for sharing laboratory methods and protocols. However, most of these solutions are only open to subscribers of a given publisher. PLOS ONE in collaboration with offers a truly unique resource for open science for laboratory methods and protocols. This is a consistent step in promoting open science in all directions, sharing experiences and new knowledge for the research community.

AF: Having robust and reliable lab protocols on which to base our own research is of high importance to the field of cell biology. A good protocol can be the difference between efficient replication of a known experiment, leading to fast progress in a new direction using the protocol, and wasting months on trying to replicate a known experiment, sometimes leading to the unnecessary abandonment of threads of research.

Finally, Academic Editor Ruslan Kalendar provides his visions for future development in open science:

RK: The next step for open science, I see, is dynamic (as opposed to today’s static resource), updatable protocols and methods, and most importantly, directly updatable research results.  Working on a given problem is always a team effort. Therefore, researchers from different parts of the world can work together on a given problem, and add new ideas, knowledge, and new approaches to the overall mega-work. To this purpose, it would be more consistent to have a platform for mega-articles, with updated content, which is regularly improved by adding new results from different labs and researchers. Including methodological approaches and protocols could also be updated. In this way, each individual researcher’s work and contribution would be visible. The scientific activity would move to a new level of scientific data exchange and the number of scientific papers would move to a new quality. We would go from the number of publications to their quality.

Image credit: Megan Rexazin, Pixabay License (Free for commercial use, No attribution required)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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