The Journal of Experimental Biology caters for the work of scientists that are curious about the way animals `make a living' and hence successfully occupy specific ecological niches. Our interest ranges from ant navigation, through the scaling of metabolism, to the fine-level molecular adaptations that allow animals to function in diverse environments. Our broad focus encompasses all disciplines of physiology and species from all animal phyla. The focus of the journal, therefore, is on research that explores and explains the mechanisms by which any physiological feat observed in the animal kingdom is accomplished.

The rise of molecular biology, and more recently of genomic science and systems biology, has posed a serious challenge to classical `comparative physiology'. This is not only because funding has become increasingly difficult to obtain for the study of `strange' species living in `esoteric'environments but also because these new conceptual areas require completely different technological approaches and a range of new informatic and analytical skills capable of dealing with very large datasets. Initially, it looked as if comparative physiology would not lend itself easily to molecular or `omics' scrutiny, a notion that was based on the specificity of gene sequences, which were expected to vary importantly among species. We have since learned that much of the coding part of the genome is highly conserved and, hence, most types of molecular tools and probes can be adapted for use across species. This development has not gone unnoticed by comparative physiologists. Many started to be attracted by the enormous power of the genomics approach to unravel the subcellular mechanisms that enable cells,tissues and organisms to perform specific functional tasks in animals facing difficult environmental situations. On the other hand, molecular biologists are beginning to realize that the cellular phenomena of signalling,transcription and translation, which they could dissect so elegantly, are not an end in themselves but are used by animals in the concerted effort for survival under a wide variety of environmental conditions.

This special issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology should make the point that the time has come for comparative physiology to embrace molecular biology, genomics and systems biology, and vice versa. We have asked eminent scientists from both a genomics and a comparative background to review their perspective of `comparative molecular physiology'. We have collected their reviews in this issue, asking them to abstain from using field-specific jargon, so as to achieve the interdisciplinary`cross-talk' we seek. To this end, we have also provided a Glossary of terms used in the articles (pp. 1492–1496). We have included reviews on the use of statistics and modelling procedures, as most of the high-throughput technologies produce enormous data sets that cannot be approached with t-tests, ANOVAs and simple regression techniques.

We believe that the Journal must publish significant research using genomically enabled approaches. In particular, we are interested in work that uses genomic tools in a system-wide context, explaining animal function down to the level of its integrated functional elements, the genes and proteins. To this end, we are proud to announce that Julian Dow has joined The Journal of Experimental Biology as an Editor specializing in manuscripts with`omics' content.

Julian Dow comes from a chemistry background but changed disciplines to do his PhD on ion transport in locusts with Simon Maddrell at the University of Cambridge (1977–1981). He was then awarded the prestigious Harkness Fellowship with William Harvey, another current Editor of JEB, at the Temple University, Philadelphia. As a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, Julian turned his attention to neurosciences and became acquainted with molecular biology and Drosophila genetics. He realized that integrative biology was just as important as reductionism and has since focussed on combining classical physiology with genetics, molecular biology and functional genomics. Julian currently works as a Professor at the University of Glasgow, Division of Molecular Genetics. We are very happy to welcome Julian, as a JEB`old-timer', to the team of Editors of the journal, and hope that his particular focus and strength will encourage submissions using molecular techniques for investigating physiological phenomena of interest.