17th December 2008

Genetic messages in Wikipedia

Novel approach to combine science publishing and wiki content for web 2.0

lysine riboswitch

The lysine riboswitch, an important RNA regulator. Source: Ben Schuster-Böckler (The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute)

A novel experiment that combines web 2.0 and Wikipedia with traditional science publishing is announced today by RNA Biology. For the first time, researchers publishing research on families of RNA molecules in the journal will be required to write a Wikipedia page summarising their findings.

Importantly, the Wikipedia pages will go through the same process of review as the main research paper published in RNA Biology. The editors hope that this process will be adopted by other journals, adding to the scientific breadth and value of Wikipedia content.

"Increasing access to accurate, contemporary scientific knowledge is vital to the health of research and important for wider society," says Alex Bateman, the leader of the Rfam project, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "Traditional science publishing serves researchers well, but we believe this initiative will broaden access to research and improve the scientific content of Wikipedia."

RNA molecules fulfil many roles: they act as messengers from the genome, containing instructions to build proteins, they act as structural components in the cell, they act to process molecules in the cell and they are increasingly recognized as important regulators of cell activity. In 2006, Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello shared the Nobel Prize for their work on RNA molecules that reduce gene activity.

RNA Biology has announced a new track of research papers that describe families of RNA molecules.

" Traditional science publishing serves researchers well, but we believe this initiative will broaden access to research and improve the scientfic content of Wikipedia "

Dr Alex Bateman

"Scientists who submit research to the journal must also write a corresponding Wikipedia article that describes the new family - as well as submitting it to the online archive of RNA families (Rfam: http://rfam.sanger.ac.uk/)," says Paul Gardner, Associate Editor at RNA Biology and a researcher at the Sanger Institute. "Both the paper and the Wikipedia article will go through the same process of review by experts."

"Our journal focuses on this increasingly important area of research," says Professor Renee Schroeder, Editor-in-Chief at RNA Biology. "We are determined to use the opportunities of mixed science publishing to bring reliable research resources to wider scientific and lay audiences. This new initiative is an exciting new step in that process."

Wikipedia is the world's largest online encyclopaedia with more than 75,000 active contributors working on more than 10,000,000 articles in more than 250 languages. For many, it has become the first point of call in all fields of knowledge.

Although Wikipedia is one of the key resources used by students and researchers, a relatively low number of academics add or edit content. Search engines for scientific terms will often return a Wikipedia article in the top three hits: the new approach will encourage researchers to help to ensure that Wikipedia's content is current and scientifically accurate.

"We welcome new initiatives that help scientists explain to the general public the results and significance of their research. Wikipedia provides a particularly high-profile way to achieve this, since around one in ten internet users visit Wikipedia each day," explains Dr Tim Vickers, director of the Wikipedia Molecular and Cellular project and a post-doc working for Steve Beverley at Washington University School of Medicine. "Collaborative writing and community-based curation of articles provides a rapid and reliable way to bring science to the public and hopefully, in the future, a powerful means for scientists from diverse fields to exchange ideas."

The researchers hope - as always - that their experiment will be successful. If so, it will serve as proof-of-principle for combining traditional research publication with web 2.0 to drive new, relevant content and new direction for scientific publication.

"Wikipedia is the most successful social experiment since the American Constitution," says Ron Landes, the owner of Landes Biosciences Publishing House. "This RNA Biology/RNA families experiment is an important milestone. Many of our journals might think about preparing short Wikipedia entries if they are suitable."

Notes to Editors

Publication details

  • A survey of nematode SmY RNAs.

    Jones TA, Otto W, Marz M, Eddy SR and Stadler PF

    RNA biology 2009;6;1;5-8

RNA Biology

RNA Biology is an excellent medium to discuss the current thinking on RNA, from coding and noncoding to therapeutic strategies based on that still very magic molecule. Our journal will emphasize RNA regulatory mechanisms (both natural and potentially therapeutic) and genomics as well as include post-transcriptional regulation at the mRNA level, even if a non-coding RNA is not involved. The scope would therefore cover non-coding RNAs, non-coding regions in mRNAs, and RNA-binding proteins.

This multidisciplinary journal publishes original research articles and reviews covering the latest aspects of molecular, biological and biomedical studies of genomic RNA. We will also include timely minireviews that reflect the broad scope of the journal. The goal is to foster communication and rapid exchange of information through timely publication of important results using traditional as well as electronic formats.


The goal of Wikipedia, the largest encyclopedia in history, is to create free encyclopedias in all languages of the world. Anyone with Internet access is free to contribute by writing new articles and editing existing articles. Wikipedia was ranked the fourth most visited website on the internet in November 2008 according to comScore.

Wikipedia started in January 2001, and currently offers over eleven million articles in over 260 languages. The largest Wikipedia is in English, with more than 2.6 million articles; followed by the German and French editions, each of which contain more than six hundred thousand articles. Nine other language editions contain 200,000+ articles, and more than 150 other languages contain 1,000+ articles. Wikipedia is entirely created and maintained by a community of active volunteers.

Washington University School of Medicine

Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.


The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, was founded in 1992. The Institute is responsible for the completion of the sequence of approximately one-third of the human genome as well as genomes of model organisms and more than 90 pathogen genomes. In October 2006, new funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to exploit the wealth of genome data now available to answer important questions about health and disease.


The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. We are independent of both political and commercial interests.


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