When Stuart Egginton picked up the phone in early June 2020 and heard the voice of his old friend Hans Hoppeler, he had no idea why his colleague of four decades was calling. ‘Hans was very chatty and said how he was retiring from Journal of Experimental Biology’, recalls Egginton, who holds the Chair in Exercise Sciences at the University of Leeds, UK. But, when Hoppeler got to the point and invited him to join the team of JEB editors, Egginton admits he was genuinely shocked. ‘I thought, surely you don't mean me?’, he chuckles. But Hoppeler's invitation was no mistimed April Fools’ Day joke. ‘Stuart is an outstanding comparative scientist and has a long-standing commitment to JEB, both as an author and as a constructive and responsive reviewer’, says Hoppeler, who first met Egginton thanks to their shared passion for quantitative microscopy and muscle plasticity. A conversation with the recently appointed future Editor-in-Chief, Craig Franklin, eventually convinced Egginton to accept the role. ‘He persuaded me that as I have dabbled across a fairly broad spectrum of subjects, my experience would be helpful, so I said I would be happy to do it’, says Egginton.
Having published his first JEB paper almost 30 years ago, Egginton has written papers on subjects ranging from the deformability of trout red blood cells to the thermal acclimation capacity of Antarctic fish. ‘I was aware of the journal from early on, I would always read it and I thought it was just the “go to” place for comparative physiology’, he says. Egginton also recalls how his fascination with zoology was sparked at an early age by inspirational teachers and Jacques Cousteau TV natural history programmes. But he really became hooked when he went to Bangor University, UK, as an undergraduate. ‘That area of North Wales probably has the most diverse range of ecosystems in a small area of the UK, so it's just an ideal place for a biologist to study’, he explains.
After a final-year undergraduate research project with Cliff Rankin devising a method to investigate blood flow redistribution in fish gills and a spell at the University of Bristol, UK, Egginton eventually joined Ian Johnston at the University of St Andrews, UK. ‘I was working on fish skeletal muscle and he was interested in biochemistry’, says Egginton, remembering how Johnston steered him in the direction of the electron microscopy suite. ‘He said, “Go and teach yourself EM”, so I had free rein. You could never afford to do that nowadays’, he laughs. After finishing his PhD, Egginton headed west to join Bruce Sidell at the University of Maine, USA, to understand how fish muscle responds to the challenges of sexual maturation and low diffusion rates to permit continued activity during winter.
But then Egginton hit a hurdle. ‘I was looking around to come back to the UK in pre-internet days, so a job advert would appear in Nature and it would take a week or so to get to the States. I'd read it and write off, but by the time my letter reached the UK, I'd missed the deadline’, Egginton explains. However, a stroke of luck at a conference poster session led Egginton to strike up a conversation with Kevin Tyler, a postdoc from the University of Birmingham, UK. ‘He worked with Olga Hudlická and he realized that the sort of questions I was asking really ought to be addressed in the mammalian field’, Egginton says, adding that Hudlická encouraged him to apply for a Wellcome Trust grant to bring him back to the UK.
At that time, Birmingham was a magnet for physiologists, many working in human physiology, and Egginton recalls having to win colleagues around to his comparative perspective. ‘I showed them data from an unanaesthetised fish swimming in a flume in one talk. I was looking at muscle EMG activity while simultaneously measuring the blood flow and I think they thought, “All right, there may be something to this after all”’, he says with a smile. More recently, Egginton relocated his lab to the University of Leeds, UK, where he faced the challenge of transforming his research into the context of sports and exercise science, as well as founding a new MSc in Sport and Exercise Medicine, mentoring junior members of the department and expanding the departmental research capacity.
Recalling how Bob Boutilier's arrival at JEB in the early 1990s encouraged him to publish with the journal, Egginton's initial impression was of a friendly organisation whose editors were on the author's side. ‘They weren't trying to stop you publishing, they wanted to make your paper better’, he says. And this is a tradition that Egginton is keen to uphold. Several weeks into the role, Egginton says, ‘It's an honour to work alongside an excellent group of editors, many of whose work I've followed for some time. The biggest challenge is recognising we can only accept the very best articles for publication’. He is also excited by the breadth of science that will pass through his hands. ‘The journal has never been afraid of embracing the broadest scope of experimental biology’, he says and he is sure his new responsibility will keep him on his toes.