The British Journal of Experimental Biology was first published in 1923. The Journal was launched to capitalise on the increasing interest of biologists in the use of experimental approaches to study the physiology of animals (Crew et al., 1923). For 100 years, we have chronicled and tracked our inroads into animal experimental biology, championed comparative physiology and published articles on the form and function of animals at all levels of biological organisation, from molecular mechanisms to organismal performance.
I feel humbled and privileged to be Editor-in-Chief at the time the journal is celebrating its centenary. It was the first dedicated comparative physiology journal to be launched and today Journal of Experimental Biology (JEB) is regarded as the leading primary research journal in comparative physiology. At the heart of JEB are studies that elucidate mechanism and aim to determine cause-and-effect through the quantification of functional, physiological and biochemical traits. Our articles are eclectic, the taxa studied varied and we cover diverse fields, including biomechanics, neurobiology and sensory physiology, endocrinology, cardiorespiratory physiology, ecophysiology and evolutionary physiology. It is this diversity and breadth that means there is at least one article in every issue of JEB that I want to read. It is the fascinating and intriguing quirks of nature that drive my curiosity and passion for the science we engage with, but it is our community – the interdisciplinary group of scientists that comprises our authors, readers, reviewers and Editorial Board – which makes it so remarkable and pleasurable; a community that is encouraging, supportive and excited about the next discovery made and shared. As a close colleague recently said to me: ‘Don't underestimate the importance of having fun with our science, and the close friendships forged’.
JEB's past is rich and colourful. From the outset, it has been known for publishing high-quality articles on the physiology of animals within an evolutionary and ecological context. The Perspective article in this issue (Hankins and Rutledge, 2023) provides an illuminating view of the early history of the journal, focusing on the authors and work published in the very first issue in October 1923. Since then, the scope, focus and context of the articles has changed substantially (Fig. 1), but common themes and threads continue, especially in the rich diversity of physiological fields and taxa that are covered. While the impact of comparative physiology and biomechanics has been apparent from its early beginnings, in more recent years the application of our discipline to complex problems has become more evident, none more so than studies shining a light on, and finding solutions to, the current biodiversity crisis driven by global change.
Celebrating 100 years of JEB
We are marking the centenary of JEB with activities and initiatives highlighting the discipline breadth and depth of the journal, profiling our authors and community and documenting key advances and developments over the past 100 years. We will also be looking ahead by interviewing JEB's Editors about the future of experimental biology and where their respective fields of research might be heading. We have created a dedicated centenary page on the journal website (https://journals.biologists.com/jeb/pages/100) to showcase activities and provide links to centenary-related content. This page will be updated throughout the year but, in the meantime, below are some of the things we have planned.
Throughout 2023, we will publish a series of Commentaries and Reviews that will document the past, present and future of comparative physiology and biomechanics. We have asked authors to present a fresh viewpoint on existing problems, pose questions that remain unanswered and challenge current paradigms, introduce novel ideas and new hypotheses, and propose how innovative approaches and methods will advance our understanding of comparative physiology and biomechanics, and experimental biology more broadly. We have also introduced a new article type – Perspective – in which authors offer a contemporary viewpoint on topics of wider interest to the community. Some of these articles showcase the importance of promoting diversity and inclusion in our community, and the resulting benefits, with the aim of highlighting and addressing issues of inequity in science. Look out for these articles, which will all be labelled as ‘Centenary Articles’ and will display the ‘100 years of discovery’ icon.
2023 Special Issue
The supplementary Special Issue of JEB in this anniversary year will focus on comparative biomechanics, a field that has contributed significantly to JEB's reputation and standing. This issue will highlight JEB's central role in historical, current and future comparative biomechanics research and will focus on broad questions in biology addressed through the lens of comparative biomechanics. We have commissioned articles that build and highlight the foundational definition of comparative biomechanics (force and displacement, mechanics) and document major influences of comparative biomechanics on other fields (environment/ecology, evolution, engineering), demonstrating application and impact.
ECR Spotlight interviews
During the year, we will be showcasing the important contributions of early-career researchers (ECRs) to the research published in JEB by featuring a series of interviews with the first author(s) of a selection of the published research papers and review-type articles. The first of these interviews are published in the current issue and, as the year progresses, we aim to promote not only the diversity of ECRs working in experimental biology but also the huge variety of animals that are essential for the ‘comparative’ approach.
Improved accessibility to archived content
The full archive of JEB content back to 1923 has been available on the journal website since 2006 but, for many of the older articles, this was mainly in PDF format, created by scanning versions of the print copies. As part of our centenary celebrations (and a wider project to mark the centenary of The Company of Biologists in 2025), we have now converted this content into fully accessible and searchable full-text HTML format. This has been a time-consuming and manual process but, as this historical content – including articles from the first issue – is still being cited today (Hankins and Rutledge, 2023), one that we hope will benefit the community for generations to come. Approximately 50% of articles dating from the first issue in 1923 have already been digitised, and the remainder of the archive is expected to be complete by Spring 2023.
New funding initiatives
JEB was launched as a community journal (Crew et al., 1923) and has continued to serve the community for the past 100 years through financial support to societies, meeting organisers and individuals. One example of this is the Travelling Fellowship scheme (https://www.biologists.com/travelling-fellowships/), which has been running for more than 25 years and has proved hugely beneficial in providing collaborative research opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. We wanted to mark the JEB centenary by expanding the scheme to provide two new funding opportunities for the community; both grants are aimed at supporting junior faculty staff setting up their first laboratory and research group. We recognise how demanding and challenging this career stage can be and wish to further support those who represent the future of the field. Research Partnership Kickstart Travel Grants will be available for researchers to travel to an institution to develop, write and submit a major grant application with a new research collaborator. We will also be offering Visiting Fellowships, giving junior faculty staff the opportunity to put forward a proposal to attract potential research students to their laboratory to undertake a specific research project together. More details of the new grants will be available in Spring 2023, and we hope that, collectively, these three funding schemes will foster new partnerships and collaborations, enable the careers of early/mid-career researchers, and advance our field with new discoveries and research findings.
Celebrating with our community
The JEB team will be out and about at meetings in 2023, starting with the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting in Austin, Texas in January, then the Canadian Society of Zoologists meeting in Saskatoon, Canada in May and the Society for Experimental Biology meeting in Edinburgh, UK in July. We will be holding ‘Meet the Editor’ sessions, where you can chat to the editors that handle research papers and review-type articles, and you will also be able to pick up all the usual JEB freebies such as Highlights, Conversation and Classics booklets, copies of the journal, notebooks and pens, together with some limited-edition centenary goodies. We look forward to meeting you and catching up with friends and colleagues we haven't seen in a long time.
I feel reassured by the new generation of experimental biologists and comparative physiologists coming through that the future of our discipline, and JEB itself, is secure. The past few years have been challenging as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic and I recognise that our community, compared to many other scientific fields, has been hit particularly hard because of the nature and type of the research we conduct and the animals we study; but we have shown that we are resilient and agile. I have been especially impressed by the goodwill shown by all and just how supportive our community is. On this note, I would like to extend my thanks to the JEB team in the Editorial Office in Cambridge, UK, who are ‘front of house’ and provide the critical link between editors, authors and reviewers. They are often the first point of contact, and I am grateful for their support, professionalism and goodwill. I also get to work with a wonderful team of Handling Editors and receive expert advice from a loyal Editorial Advisory Board, all of whom play a valuable role in ensuring that JEB publishes the best papers and science. Finally, a big thank you to our authors, reviewers and readers, past and present, who have made JEB what it is today. A list of those who reviewed for us in 2022 is available in the supplementary material. Best wishes to all…let's bring on the centenary celebrations!