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Lessons that Last, and Last, and Last: 400 Pearls and Still Counting

In conjunction with the publication of the 400th Pearls article, PLOS Pathogens Pearls Editor Joseph Heitman reflects on the continued success of Pearls, an Open Access compendium of the “lessons that last”.

Mitchell KF, Zarnowski R, Andes DR (2016) Fungal Super Glue: The Biofilm Matrix and Its Composition, Assembly, and Functions.
Mitchell KF, Zarnowski R, Andes DR (2016) Fungal Super Glue: The Biofilm Matrix and Its Composition, Assembly, and Functions.

There are a number of ways to measure the success of a new editorial series, one of the most important being sustained momentum.  When PLOS Pathogens launched our Pearls series almost eight years ago, then under the direction of Editor Hiten Madhani, we hoped that the series would be a lasting success. Now with 400 published articles, a collection organized into 7 mini-collections (for 7 days of the week), and 15 dedicated Editors across the broad areas of PLOS Pathogens’ subject-matter, we think we’ve hit the mark.

The PLOS Pathogens Pearls series spans all areas of interest to the journal and to its readership, including bacteria, fungi, parasites, prions and viruses. We cover the interactions of these pathogens with their host, as well as their human, agricultural, and economic consequences. Over the years, we’ve published a number of impactful articles on a range of topics—from emerging viruses, war and infectious diseases, skin-affecting fungi, banana disease, and contagious cancers. While focusing on a specific topic, Pearls are not intended to be comprehensive reviews on a subject, but to condense information in a field concisely and cogently into an article that advances understanding and education, encouraging further inquiry and reading.

Seven mini Pearls series for seven days of the week
Seven mini Pearls series for seven days of the week

Pearls is celebrated by a wide audience, and the original and continued inspiration of the series is to create concise mini-reviews that can be used as an educational resource. In the founding Editorial of the series, Dr. Madhani asks, “In the face of this inevitable ebb and flow of focus and attention, how are we to teach students the “lessons that last” or “the facts of a field” while keeping current?” Especially now, with increasing online publication, available content through Open Access journals, and sharing via social media, students and educators need access to topical and succinct articles addressing areas of relevance and importance within the field of pathogens research. Not only are Pearls specific and pertinent to their field, but they cover exciting advances, as well as areas of historic significance in all areas of the field of microbial pathogenesis. As much as each article is specific, the series as a whole covers a wide-range of topics that is accessible to professors, students, active researchers, and the general public.

The series has made great strides in the last eight years, and is now supported by a team of 15 dedicated editors: Richard Condit (viruses), Rebecca Dutch (viruses), Katherine Spindler (viruses), Matthew Evans (viruses), Joseph Heitman (fungi), Deborah Hogan (microbial interactions, microbiome), Don Sheppard (fungi, host-pathogen interactions), William Goldman (fungi and bacteria), Kimberly Kline (bacteria), John Leong (bacteria), Laura Knoll (parasites), Manuel Llinás (parasites), Laurie Read (parasites), Heather True (prions), and Cyril Zipfel (plant-microbe interactions).  We are grateful for the many contributions to the Pearls series by Vincent Racaniello (viruses) and Virginia Miller (bacteria), who have recently retired from service as Pearls editors. This expansion of our team has allowed Pearls to cover an increasingly diverse series of topics that includes as new areas of thematic focus: infectious tumor cells as the sixth infectious modality, the microbiome, microbe-microbe interactions, plant microbial interactions, clinical aspects of infectious disease and host-pathogen interactions, microbes and cancer, and vaccines and cancer vaccines.

Litvintseva AP, Brandt ME, Mody RK, Lockhart SR (2015) Investigating Fungal Outbreaks in the 21st Century.
Litvintseva AP, Brandt ME, Mody RK, Lockhart SR (2015) Investigating Fungal Outbreaks in the 21st Century.

In our celebration of Pearls’ success, today, we publish our 400th article in the series, “Vibrio vulnificus: From Oyster Colonist to Human Pathogen” by PLOS Pathogens Editor Karla J.F. Satchell and colleagues. In addition, on June 26, 2017, the series will have been in progress for eight years. Many such experiments in publishing require a decade or more before it is clear whether they have been impactful. By several metrics, this series has already hit its stride.

One such metric is the article level metrics available for all PLOS publications, by which readers and authors and editors can track how many times an article is accessed electronically. By this metric, of 400 Pearls articles published to date, our top two Pearls (Emerging Infectious Diseases: Threats to Human Health and Global Stability and The Role of Mast Cells in the Defence against Pathogens) have been read over 80,000 and 75,000 times, respectively. In addition, eight Pearls have been read more than 27,000 times, and 83 have been read more than 10,000 times.

The Pearls series can be explored as a collection (, where there are 7 mini-collections for 7 days of the week: Bacteria, Fungi, Host- Interactions, Parasites, Plant Pathogens, Prions, and Viruses. The entire series, including the founding Editorial, and a blog post celebrating the publication of the 200th Pearl are also available in the collection.

Triest D, Hendrickx M (2016) Postharvest Disease of Banana Caused by Fusarium musae: A Public Health Concern?
Triest D, Hendrickx M (2016) Postharvest Disease of Banana Caused by Fusarium musae: A Public Health Concern?

To provide a sense of the scope of the Pearls series, we list the following as illustrative examples of the breadth and range of the series:

As editors for the Pearls series, we look forward to the next several years of this series to reach our first decade, and we look forward to hearing comments from authors and readers.  We also invite you to consider submitting a Pearls mini-review on a topic of your interest to assist us in highlighting novel and exciting areas of the field that are advancing, and will thereby be further advanced.


JHJoseph Heitman, MD, PhD, is a James B. Duke Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University, and director of the Tri-Institutional Molecular Mycology and Pathogenesis Training Program (Duke University, North Carolina State University, and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill). His research focuses on the evolution of sex in fungi and the roles of sexual reproduction in microbial pathogens, how cells sense and respond to nutrients and the environment, the targets and mechanisms of action of immunosuppressive and antimicrobial drugs, and the genetic and molecular basis of microbial pathogenesis and development. He serves on the editorial boards of PLOS PathogensPLOS Biology, and PLOS Genetics, amongst others.



Featured Image Credit: amboo who?, flickr

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