This year, we are celebrating open access week by talking to a number of researchers who have chosen to publish their work openly. We are discussing the reasons behind their choice, and the benefits they have seen for their research and career, and the role that institutions as well as Transformative Agreements can have in assisting with funding. In this interview, Dr. István Zachar, evolutionary biologist and a senior research fellow at the Centre for Ecological Research, Institute of Evolution in Budapest, shares his thoughts on publishing open access.
Open access is conceived for and effectively realizes immediate and costless access to scientific research and data for anyone, regardless of academic status or funding support. This allows quick and fair access to scientific results for the community.
I am an evolutionary biologist, studying various major evolutionary transitions from the origin of Life through the origin of eukaryotes to the origin of human language. Under the hood, these events share the very same Darwinian evolutionary processes that lead to ever-more complex reproducing things like the first cells, nucleated organisms, and culture. Perhaps the most challenging transition was the origin of mitochondria and eukaryotes (like algae, plants, animals, us), some 2 billion years ago from bacteria and archaea. I have extensively studied this problem by mathematically modelling certain scenarios. In my last published paper (the one at Springer’s Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences), we were invited to review known and possible ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that may have helped forming a lasting partnership between the bacterial ancestor of mitochondria and the archaeal ancestor of eukaryotes. The topic is truly challenging, with lots of questions and debate as new phylogenomic data reveal new pieces of the puzzle each year.
As is clear from this summary, both the topic and my research are quite interdisciplinary. On one hand, my research depends on access to different scientific domains and approaches. On the other, the concept of major transitions has had a very fertilizing effect on very different areas in the last 25+ years. As a result, I fully endorse and support OA, as a principle, which certainly helped me to access all the relevant publications of the various connected fields, from microbiology to mathematical models of ecology.
It is a bit early to assess this (the paper came out in 2020), but I think that an OA paper will likely reach more people, especially those who want to read more than just the abstract. Our paper being a review, we assume that people who are not familiar with endosymbiosis and the origin of mitochondria and eukaryotes (they are certainly more numerous than those who are familiar) will eventually bump into it to get an overview of the topic.
I am certain that most evolutionary biologists, especially theoreticians and modellers, are well aware of publication models and the principles of OA. I don’t think that evolutionary biology has a discipline-specific barrier or challenge, other than some well-known high-profile journals that are still not freely accessible (TREE, Nature, etc.).
Thanks to the agreement between EISZ (the national Electronic Information Service in Hungary) and Springer Nature, the EISZ Transformative Agreement, and to my Institute's Administrative Office, I had minimal administrative work regarding publication, as the Office covered all details and corresponding. I could focus on putting the science to paper without any hassle.
If you, your group or your institute have the dedicated funding for OA publishing, then do it without hesitation. It greatly benefits the scientific community.
Dr. István Zachar’s article was published OA under the Hungary Transformative Agreement between Springer Nature and EISZ. This agreement means authors affiliated with participating institutions can publish OA in more than 1,900 Springer hybrid journals with their fees covered.
Dr. István Zachar is an evolutionary biologist and a senior research fellow at the Centre for Ecological Research, Institute of Evolution. He has a Ph.D. in biology and has received training in ecological and evolutionary modelling of dynamical systems. Also, he is a passionate programmer and considers himself a philosopher of biology. He is interested in all Darwinian systems, which show multiplication, variability, and heredity. The stunning analogy of Darwinian evolution of biological organisms and the evolution of languages and culture fascinates him. He pursues many of the most challenging questions of major evolutionary transitions of Life on Earth, including the origins of template replicators.