My last research paper is published

January 23, 2020 • 11:45 am

Thie paper below is the culmination of research started at least ten years ago in Chicago, but, due to various glitches and re-doing the research in a more thorough way, it didn’t see light for a decade. The paper also represents a collaboration between several investigators, starting with my last NIH grant, but was delayed because of the need to do DNA sequencing (which I couldn’t do), and then the arrival of better, faster, and cheaper DNA-sequencing methods, which allowed us to sequence 20 million bases of DNA for the final paper.

It’s finally appeared as an “early online” paper in Genetics, and will be in the journal soon (I hope). Click on the screenshot to see the online version (pdf here), which isn’t as spiffy-looking as the published version will be. Since I’m not doing any more research with my own hands, this represents what I think will be my last research paper, but perhaps not my last refereed scientific paper.

I’ll explain the results as briefly as I can when the paper appears in final form, but if you want to read it now, it’s free.  I want to say two things, though.

First, I think it’s a really cool experiment, and a good way to go out. It’s the sort of experiment that every evolutionary geneticist thinks of, wants to do, but realizes that it’s dicey because it takes a long time and you might not get the answer before applying for your next grant. Fortunately, this was a major part of what I knew would be my last NIH grant, so I was under no pressure to finish the experiment in the three-year granting period. The question involved was this: if you thoroughly mix two different species of Drosophila, producing a “hybrid swarm” that has the DNA and cytoplasm of both species in equal proportion, what happens to that swarm? Does it evolve into a new species? Or does it revert back to one or the other parental species, and, if so, does it revert to the same species over and over again when you make replicate swarms? And if there is such reversion, how much is reflected in morphology, behavior, and DNA sequence? (That is, does the evolved swarm superficially resemble one of the parental species but still contains DNA from both species?) Or does the admixture produce a swarm that is not a “new species” (like the hybrid parrots that the Washington Post got wrong), but simply a mixed population of mongrels that isn’t reproductively isolated from its parents?

The answer, it turned out, was very clear, repeatable, and quite interesting. But stay tuned.

Second, my very first real research paper, published in 1972 based on my undergraduate research at William and Mary—and also on speciation—appeared in Genetics as well, which is a very good journal. (That paper is free online here.) So there’s been a pleasing symmetry in my research career.

37 thoughts on “My last research paper is published

  1. “The answer, it turned out, was very clear, repeatable, and quite interesting. But stay tuned.”

    With a build-up like that I just had to click on the article to find out!

    1. Congratulations! The symmetry with the journal Genetics is a really cool way to wrap up an exceptional career of scientific publishing. As someone who (hopefully) will publish a few more papers before calling it; is the last one as much fun as the first one?

      1. It depends on what you mean “as much fun”. I suppose the answer would be “yes” in the sense of the last experiment being much more comprehensive and we waited the outcome with great anticipation. And when the data were finally crunched (I had my own data, so I knew the behavioral and morphological outcome), it was a really nice moment.

    1. Yeah, I had the choice of being first author or last author, but my ex-student, Daniel Matute, did most of the work, and he was also at the beginning of his career as a professor, so I did the right thing.

  2. Are you sure it’s the last? My postdoc advisor “retired” for the first time, I think it was 13 years ago. He closed his lab and after a while ended up squatting in someone else’s for a few years (which was a good arrangement for everyone). He published what he claimed was his last paper ever last year and told me, “that’s it I’m finally retired”. Last week I got an email request followed by a box of slides and a request to stain them – “…I think there is another paper…”

  3. Congratulations, Jerry! I like the symmetry of your publishing career, and I feel honored to have played a small part in ushering a few of those papers through the publication process. It has all turned out quite well!

  4. Thanks for this – I’m revising my Intro to Evolution notes for later this semester and this will be useful.

  5. Congratulations for a long and productive career. It occurs to me that publishing new knowledge is a great way for a scientist to appreciate his/her contribution to society. Definitely a source of pride. In these troubled times (politics), when I begin to lose all hope for humanity, the thought of science marching on reminds me that most humans are doing just fine.

  6. Just read the abstract. The results could have an interesting implication concerning genetic drift in relation to geographic isolation.

  7. This sounds very intriguing! Especially after reading the abstract. Most of it is probably a bit beyond me I’m sure, but I’ll try slogging through the paper this weekend. I’m very much looking forward to your explanation of the results.

    I’ll tell you Jerry, from what I’ve gotten to know of you over the years you’ve been hosting WEIT, your career seems to have been rather enviable to me. Reminiscent of a scientist hero comic book serial like Johnny Quest, minus the cheese.

  8. Like Frodo Baggins, you’re full of surprises. Congratulations! Looking forward to reading the results. The advancement in DNA sequencing technology has opened many new horizons in biology- politics is going to hell, but biology continues to amaze.

  9. Went through it (gave it a good skimming. Sorry to not have time for more). Interesting idea that it could have been primarily selection for reproduction rather than internecine conflict that led to the extinction of Neanderthals.

  10. Congratulations jerry. Symmetry of journal but super asymmetry in moving from two authors in the same dept (you and your advisor) on first paper to an international cast you led on final research paper. Nice to tie things up this way.

  11. Congratulations! Will be curious to hear what conclusions you draw from this, as the likely implications are beyond me.

  12. That’s really cool, Jerry, and thanks to the fact that I’ve now finished reading WEIT, I think I’ll be able to understand the broad points of the paper.

  13. My last research paper

    You’re going to wake up tomorrow morning with a howlingly good research idea that can be done in two weeks with two balls of string and a blob of sealing-wax.

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