We continue our Meet the Editor series as part of PLOS ONE’s 10th anniversary celebrations with an interview with Dee Carter- one of the first Editorial Board Members to have joined the journal 10 years ago.
Dee Carter‘s lab at the University of Sydney, Australia focuses on eukaryotic microorganisms, in particular disease-causing pathogens. Since these organisms are more closely related to humans than bacteria or viruses for instance, it is challenging to find treatments that don’t damage the host at the same time. Her research revolves around understanding pathogen diversity using population and evolutionary genetic analysis, and on understanding cellular responses to toxins and stresses using transcriptomic and proteomic approaches. Dee graduated from the University of Otago, New Zealand, with a BSc and undertook her PhD at Imperial College London, UK, where she worked on the plant pathogen Phytophtohora infestans. She then did postdocs at the Faculte de Medicine de Montpellier, France and in the US at Roche Molecular Systems, Alameda, California and the University of Berkeley, under the combined mentorship of Dr Thomas White and Professsor John Taylor. She has been at the University of Sydney since 1995. Dee joined the PLOS ONE Editorial Board as Academic Editor at the launch of the journal in 2006.
What led you to become interested in eukaryotic microorganisms?
I first started working with eukaryotic microorganisms during my PhD, when I studied Phytophthora infestans, the cause of potato blight. I then did a postdoc on medically important fungi, which I have continued to work on in my own research group, but it’s their life in “the wild” and how this shapes them as pathogens that fascinate me the most.
I find eukayrotic micoroorganisms amazing – so much stuff packed into a single cell! And so much diversity in how they look and what they do. To me they are the perfect research organism: they are microbes so they easy to manipulate and you can store huge numbers in small spaces, yet as they are eukaryotes their genetics and biochemistry is just as complex as our own cells. And as pathogens they are clever and fiendish foes, and their ability to adapt and evolve to cope with just about anything is incredible.
What challenges and developments can we expect to see for this field in the next few years?
Genomics (and metagenomics) has driven major advances in how we view microorganisms and has taken us from thinking of them in isolation to thinking about them living in complex ecosystems with multiple interdependencies. As these studies are applied more broadly and go ever deeper and include the eukaryotic microbes, we will be able to see how they are involved in multi-partner systems with other microbial organisms. Similarly, systems biology approaches are allowing the complexity of cellular processes to be unraveled and will enable new ways to both harness the power of helpful microbes and inhibit harmful ones.
A major challenge I see in my area involving fungal pathogens is the ongoing lack of adequate treatment options, which we may be compromising further due to over-use. We have very few good drugs and there is overlap in the class of agents that are used agriculturally and those that are used medically, which drives resistance in both. This, combined with increased numbers of susceptible hosts due to immunocompromise – both mild due to diabetes, and severe due to immunosuppressive therapies and HIV/AIDS – make fungi very important emerging infectious agents. So the challenges in this area involve first developing effective new drugs, and second making sure that the agricultural and health sectors work together to ensure that our antifungal resources are used and managed appropriately.
You joined PLOS ONE’s editorial board when the journal was launched 10 years ago. What attracted you to PLOS ONE in the first place?
I was very attracted to the open access model, which was still very new at the time, and seemed to me to be the way we should be disseminating our science so that people could access it anywhere, regardless of their own resources. I was also attracted to the idea of a general biology journal, and I liked the notion that as long as the science was of a high standard it should be published, without subjective notions of novelty or impact.
The journal has grown beyond expectations. Why do you think a journal like PLOS ONE -a multidisciplinary and rigor-focused journal- is relevant to scientists in general and within your field in particular?
I think the fact that it is what you have said –multidisciplinary and rigor-focused, as well as being open access – that attracts scientists from different areas to it. Although I am not a big fan of the impact factor, the fact that this has been quite high has also been attractive to many scientists. It’s been interesting to see many colleagues who were initially quite sceptical of PLOS ONE now choosing it to publish their studies.
The publishing landscape has changed a lot in these 10 years. What do you think has been a positive change and where is there more work to do?
To me the most positive change has been the growth of the open access model. It’s great that you no longer have to belong to an elite group that has access via library privileges to read the latest scientific advances, particularly as these are largely publicly funded. But a big challenge that has arisen is the huge growth in new journals and the rise of predatory publishers; I worry that lack of rigor fueled by their commercial interests leads to very poor science and pseudoscience being published and passed to the general public, who can’t be expected to discern credible from non-credible sources. We all know how extraordinarily damaging poor research can be – just look at the “vaccination-causes-autism” saga, which won’t go away no matter how many rigorous and properly conducted studies prove it to be untrue. So I see a need for some level of oversight or perhaps accreditation of journals to distinguish the good from the poor in the open access pay-to-publish space.