January 2011

The JBC gets a new editor


The Journal of Biological Chemistry's new editor-in-chief, Martha Fedor, talks about her background, her research and her plans for the journal. (Titled "Meet Marty Fedor" in print version.) 

FedorLast month, the Journal of Biological Chemistry named Martha Fedor, a faculty member at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., the journal’s next editor-in-chief. Her five-year term began Jan. 1. Fedor succeeds Herbert Tabor, a distinguished researcher at the National Institutes of Health who steered the highly cited journal for the past four decades. She is the first female leader in the journal’s 106-year history, and she already has in mind a number of initiatives aimed at maintaining the journal’s prestige while keeping it positioned on the leading edge of biochemistry.

ASBMB: For readers not familiar with your work, what do you do, in a nutshell?
Fedor: We study RNA folding and catalysis. In a nutshell, we use biochemical and biophysical approaches to explore how RNA enzymes catalyze biological reactions. We also exploit the self-cleaving activity of small catalytic RNAs to learn how RNAs fold into the precise three-dimensional structures that are needed to perform biological functions in vivo.

ASBMB: You initially were trained as a molecular biologist and have been called a biological chemistry convert. Do you think this makes you an interesting choice for JBC editor?
Fedor: My introduction to mechanistic enzymology occurred when I was a postdoc in Olke Uhlenbeck’s lab in Colorado in the same year that Tom Cech and Sid Altman were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of RNA catalysis. Seeing the value of a quantitative, mechanistic framework for rigorous analyses of RNA catalysis truly changed my approach to science forever. I believe that using the same kind of logical framework to gain a deeper understanding of biological processes as they occur inside living cells is one of the most exciting scientific frontiers.

ASBMB:  What do you see as the JBC’s core strengths?
Fedor: It has a lot of strengths. Its greatest, I’d say, is its distinctive focus on biological processes – in contrast with descriptive, methodological or clinical studies – that sets it apart from other journals. When a paper is published in the JBC, people know that it presents a significant advance in understanding the molecular and cellular basis of a biological process. A second major strength is its emphasis on service to the community, which is reflected in constructive reviews, rapid turnaround times, same-day publication, educational tools and other content, such as Reviews and Reflections, that places current research results in a broader scientific context.

ASBMB: What about weaknesses that you intend to address?
Fedor: The journal has been slowly adapting to the changing frontiers in science and the changing composition of the scientific community, but there’s still more work to do if we’re going to capture emerging areas and draw in the international scientific community. Regular consultations with international leaders outside our conventional base would help us identify emerging areas and maintain an international perspective. Also, guest editors who personify the cutting edge in emerging areas would bring new expertise to the editorial process and generally serve as emissaries to extend our reach into new scientific communities.

ASBMB:  You’ve said before that you want to enhance the JBC’s service to authors. What do you have in mind?
Fedor: I’d like to look at the entire manuscript submission and review process to see how we can optimize authors’ experiences and better evaluate our performance. To reassure authors that their manuscripts will be reviewed fairly and efficiently, I would encourage authors to suggest outside referees if necessary. We also should consider facilitating authors’ access to more information about editorial board members’ expertise through links to their websites and/or PubMed records.

About Marty Fedor

• Appointments: The Scripps Research Institute department of chemical physiology, The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, Kellogg School of Science and Technology.

• Education: Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1982; B.S. in zoology from the University of Michigan in 1976.

• Research focus: Mechanisms of RNA assembly and catalysis.

• More information: Find out more about Fedor’s research by visiting her lab’s website.

ASBMB:  You’ve been described as a role model and a dedicated mentor, particularly for female students at your institution. Have you thought much about what it means to be the JBC’s first female editor-in-chief?
Fedor: I have been struck by evidence that simply seeing a woman perform as a competent scientist, mathematician or engineer can have profound effects on a child’s perception of her own potential. Outstanding women scientists have been so important throughout my own career – they know who they are! I relish the opportunity to encourage the next generation of women scientists.

ASBMB: Herb Tabor is downright legendary. How intimidating is it to be his successor?
Fedor: No words are adequate to express the respect and admiration I feel for Herb Tabor. Part of his magical way with people is to make them believe they are capable of doing whatever he asks. Part of that magic must be in play here, and I do have his promise to work with me as co-editor during this transition. Of course, Herb is one of a kind, and no single person could ever fill his shoes. Fortunately for me, he has assembled a terrific team of associate editors, board members and front office staff to help me bring the journal into this new era.

ASBMB:  When you’re not in the classroom or lab or reviewing manuscripts, how do you like to spend your free time?
Fedor: I will let you know when I have some. Seriously, I’m lucky to have had the chance to live in and visit some of the most beautiful places in the world, and I love throwing myself into outdoor activities – bodysurfing in the ocean, hiking in the mountains and deserts. I’m also attracted to the technical and creative aspects of photography, and I’m trying to develop some skill as an amateur photographer.

Angela Hopp (ahopp@asbmb.org) is managing editor for special projects at ASBMB.

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