Saying goodbye is never easy, but when the team of people that you are leaving feels like a close-knit group of relatives, the wrench is doubly agonising. ‘I sincerely feel that I am part of a family’, says Michael Dickinson, who has made the reluctant decision to step down as a JEB Editor after 11 years. ‘I am already dreading the withdrawal of not being part of that anymore’, he says. However, Dickinson is consoled by the knowledge that his contribution to the journal has allowed him to champion organismal biology at a time when many biologists have turned their backs on whole-animal physiology. ‘I feel that, above all, most JEB authors respect the animals that they are studying more than they value their professional advancement’, says Dickinson.
In addition to overseeing the peer review of hundreds of research articles spanning the fields of insect flight, biomechanics and neuroethology, Dickinson has also been pivotal in three JEB symposia and the accompanying special issues. Having taken the opportunity to focus on topics ranging from host–parasite interactions to the evolution of social behaviour and modern genome editing techniques, Dickinson says, ‘I saw the symposia as opportunities to promote important areas of research that should be nurtured and brought to the attention of our readers’.
With the prospect of a little more time on his hands, Dickinson is keen to return full time to research, investigating the neural circuitry of insect flight control and the mechanisms that allow fruit flies to navigate over small and large distances. However, he warns that he is deeply concerned by the apparent apocalypse threatening the planet's insect population. ‘I think we basic scientists bear some responsibility in not paying attention to the important global trends around us’, he says, adding that he plans to spread awareness of the issue and to contribute to the development of urgently needed conservation strategies.
Needing to identify a successor for Dickinson, JEB Editor-in-Chief Hans Hoppeler set his sights on finding a biomechanist with a similarly broad interest in insect physiology. After consulting with the team of Editors, Hoppeler invited Sanjay Sane, from the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS), India, to become the journal's 28th Editor since it was founded in 1923. ‘I was elated’, says Sane, recalling the day when he received the call; however, his odyssey to membership of the JEB editorial team did not follow any of the more conventional biological paths.
‘I did my undergraduate degree at St Stephens College in Delhi in physics, chemistry and mathematics’, explains Sane, who then pursued his fascination with vortices in fluids during his Master's degree in physics, specialising in astrophysics and non-linear dynamics, at the University of Poona, India. However, Sane never forgot his mother and brother's fascination with the curious insects that they found in the backyard of the family home. ‘I think my interest in insects was mainly from them’, he recalls, adding that the two fascinations fused during his Master's degree, when he realised that insects harness spinning vortices of air for flight. ‘I became obsessed with insect flight’, says Sane, who briefly joined K. Vijayraghavan's lab investigating Drosophila muscle development at the NCBS in Bangalore just to get close to the insects. And it wasn't long before Sane headed to the USA to join Dickinson's lab, first in Chicago and then in Berkeley, for his PhD.
‘In many ways, moving to Berkeley was like going back home’, laughs Sane, who was born in nearby Oakland during his plant biologist father's US postdoc. ‘I think that this period was most influential in my growth as a biomechanist’, says Sane, who spent 5.5 years with Dickinson investigating the fluid mechanics of insect flight using a mechanical robot fly immersed in oil to recreate the stickiness of air. After graduating, Sane, his wife – mechanical engineer Namrata Gundiah – and young family initially moved to Seattle, where he joined Tom Daniel's lab. ‘[Tom's] science knew no boundaries’, says Sane, recalling how he instantly felt at home as a ‘recovering physicist’, learning neurobiology and unravelling the role of various sensory organs in moth flight during his postdoc. However, Sane and Gundiah knew that they always intended to return to India. ‘We wanted our boys to know their grandparents and extended family, to have an “Indian childhood”’, he says. So, after several years of commuting between Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area, the family returned to Bangalore when Gundiah completed her postdoc at the University of California, San Francisco, USA. Since establishing his lab at NCBS, Sane has continued focusing on the role of antennal mechanosensors in flight stabilization, in addition to branching out into the world of social insects. ‘I'm fascinated by collective behaviour insects’, says Sane, who has recently begun studying the mound-building termites that occur on the NCBS campus.
Looking forward to the challenge of being the newest recruit on the JEB editorial team, Sane explains that he feels a responsibility to the graduate students and postdocs sending their first manuscripts to the journal. ‘They deserve a fair review process’, says Sane, in recognition of the long hours spent by many in the lab. He also admits to being in awe of the journal's reputation for high-quality peer review. ‘I see JEB as a standard-bearer and my task will be to uphold those standards’, he adds. Dickinson is also sure that Hoppeler has found a safe pair of hands to continue nurturing the journal's legacy. ‘Sanjay will be a tireless champion of organismal biology and integrative approaches. I expect him to be fair, rigorous and equally empathic to authors and referees’, he says.