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Editor Spotlight: Branislav Šiler

In this post, Dr. Branislav Šiler gives advice to new Editorial Board members, explains the importance of genetic diversity in plant populations, and discusses what open science means to him. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

PLOS ONE Academic Editor Branislav Šiler

Dr. Branislav Šiler is a Principal Research Fellow of the Institute for Biological Research “S. Stanković”, which is the National Institute of the Republic of Serbia and a member of the University of Belgrade. Dr. Šiler is professionally devoted to the world of plants and personally to his family of five. Throughout his career, he constantly strives to focus his research on population genetics, but his interests include the basic plant physiology, phytochemistry as well as evolutionary biology. He studies the process of how particular secondary metabolite profiles result in a higher chance of survival for some genotypes and investigates the genetic events as sources for plants’ genetic variations, namely polyploidization and interspecific hybridization. Dr. Šiler is passionate about his fieldwork and spends most of the time in a laboratory.

As an Academic Editor with a long tenure on PLOS ONE Editorial Board, what advice would you give to new Editorial Board members?

My general advice: give it a try!

If you feel you have gathered enough knowledge in a scientific field and wish to share it with the world, getting involved as an Editorial Board member at one of the most famous multidisciplinary journals is a good way to help authors increase the presentation quality of their works. Finding reviewers and making decisions based on their sometimes opposed opinions might be difficult at first but after several months, you will find yourself extremely skillful in these processes though may still face challenges once in a while.

My second major advice is to always be respectful of authors and reviewers and dedicate to them the amount of time and professional input that they deserve. This means maintaining a good communication with the authors and reviewers, providing a proper explanation for your editorial decisions, and sending the authors additional recommendations not mentioned in the reviewers’ reports, for example, to further increase the clarity and the flow of the text or the figure presentation. Overall, you should be professionally satisfied with the published article as you would have authored it.

Your research focuses on genetic makeup of plant populations, especially among Centaurium species. Why is understanding genetic variations important and what interests you to study Centaurium species?

I always try to emphasize that Mother Nature has no plan to sustain species’ survival other than potentiating their genetic variability. Genetic variations, often undetected in a phenotype (observable characteristics), represent an information pool where a plant draws from when encountering environmental challenges such as the loss of habitat or various forms of stress. Diminishing genetic variations in a plant population is reducing its potential to cope with a changing environment, which finally leads to its extinction in the affected area. Preserving a high volume of genetic variations in a population secures the availability of a few genotypes with a combination of genes that can give rise to desirable characteristics for the survival of the population.

Several species from the genus Centaurium represent good model systems to study the consequences of habitat fragmentation on the populations’ genetic background since they form rather small populations with virtually no gene flow among them. As a result, one would expect a high level of homozygosity over time, but it is interesting to study how the populations find their ways to survive by stepping into interspecific hybridization (crossing between species of the same genus) and polyploidization (multiplication of a complete chromosome sets), thus increasing not only the genome size but also the genetic variants found in it. This type of studies provides valuable data for the estimation of species’ vulnerability, and the knowledge gained can be applied to other plant species that practice this kind of “refreshment” of their gene pools.

What does open science mean to you?

With the outburst of the “publish or perish” pressure in the scientific community and the public debate that it may have decreased the quality of scientific works, the open science movement offers anyone to access, reproduce the research if necessary, and publicly discuss the results presented in an article. Moreover, review reports and editorial decisions are recommended to be transparent and can be criticized, all of which undoubtedly increase the scientific rigor and ultimately improve the quality of scientific research and presentation.

Two additional open science principles that are the most influential to my research are open-source software and involvement of non-experts in communicating science. Open source offers a broad population of experts to use, modify, and distribute the source code, which is incredibly important for processing and modelling scientific data. Regarding science communication, I believe that open access to science results alone cannot increase the public awareness of their significance. More efforts are needed to make science understandable to the general audience and encouraging ideas such as citizen science and public science to get people involved can lead to a better understanding and an increased use value of science products among the public.

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

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