Genetic messages in Wikipedia

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

Genetic messages in Wikipedia

riboswitch_300.jpgBen Schuster-Böckler, The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
The lysine riboswitch, an important RNA regulator.

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

Alex Bateman, the leader of the Rfam project, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

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.

"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: Both the paper and the Wikipedia article will go through the same process of review by experts."

Paul Gardner, Associate Editor at RNA Biology and a researcher at the Sanger Institute

"Our journal focuses on this increasingly important area of research. 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."

Professor Renee Schroeder, Editor-in-Chief at RNA Biology

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. 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."

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

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. 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."

Ron Landes, the owner of Landes Biosciences Publishing House

Notes to Editors
  • A survey of nematode SmY RNAs.

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

    RNA biology 2009;6;1;5-8

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