This is the first issue of the new Heredity, which is undergoing major evolutionary changes in association with its move to the Nature Publishing Group. This move will augment the Nature Publishing Group's collection of high quality genetics titles, including some of those with the highest impacts in the field. The change also reflects the publisher's strong commitment to reflecting cutting-edge developments in the biological sciences.
The journal Heredity has a long and distinguished history, since its foundation by CD Darlington and RA Fisher more than 50 years ago. Since that time, it has been an international forum for high quality research in genetics, and still welcomes submissions from across the whole spectrum of the field. In recent years, the journal has particularly concentrated on studies of ecological and population genetics, biometrical and statistical genetics, animal and plant breeding, and cytogenetics. Increasingly, these studies of genetic diversity have been carried out on variation defined at the DNA level.
While it is a testament to the success of the genetic endeavour of the 20th century that almost all areas of biology now approach questions from the standpoint of genetics and molecular biology, it remains true that synergisms and syntheses between different areas within genetics continue to offer prospects for the most exciting biological developments. Studies of genetic variation within and between populations have been revolutionised by the application of molecular biology, and are being increasingly changed by our knowledge of genomics. In addition, however, we should be aware that these changes to the datasets of evolutionary genetics are being accompanied by developments in theory which make these new results interpretable. When visual or allozyme polymorphisms were the main focus of evolutionary genetics, data consisted of the frequencies of a few alleles, and the important questions were what evolutionary forces, selection, mutation, gene flow and drift, were causal in the determination of these frequencies. Now, intraspecific DNA sequence variation, typified by samples containing many different alleles with varying degrees of similarity to each other, calls for new approaches, characterised by coalescent theory, and its ability to make inferences about population history from the properties of sequences in a sample. Increasingly, the focus is also on the geographic distribution of intraspecific variation and its significance for biogeography, vicariance and conservation biology. However, the coalescent interpretations increasingly used normally require strong assumptions of neutrality, and one challenge for the development of theory is to augment this theoretical structure to allow for the influence of natural selection. The origins of our own species are also being clarified more than ever before by studies of molecular variation within human populations.
While population and evolutionary genetics is being changed by molecular information, this synergism works both ways. Genetics has an increasingly high profile in the larger world, a development fueled by the completion of genomic sequencing projects. As with all biology, the explanation of the structures and patterns being discovered in genomes must ultimately be evolutionary, and population biology's understanding of the selective and stochastic forces determining genetic change should be applied in the interpretation of these exciting new data. Furthermore, our increasing knowledge of genomes throws up a series of questions which population and evolutionary genetics are uniquely placed to answer. The use of association studies and linkage disequilibrium in human genetics as a guide to the locations of factors determining polygenic traits is only one example.
This burgeoning interest in population and ecological genetics is exciting news for Heredity and will be covered enthusiastically in our pages, although we retain our commitment to publishing high quality research throughout the range of genetics, particularly stressing eukaryotes. Examples of the range of the journal's output come from this issue. Huttunen et al describe the molecular variation and evolution in a Drosophila gene encoding an RNA-binding protein, while, in another insect order, a study by Bakkali et al follows the drive and neutralisation of B chromosomes. Work on plants includes the evidence reported by Fulnecek et al that the two 5S ribosomal RNA gene families in tobacco have their origins in this species’ diploid ancestors. Steven Kalinowski's analytical study of the numbers of alleles per locus will have applications for many groups of organisms.
Accompanying these developments in the content of the journal, there is also a change in the editorial structure. We have increased the number of editors, who will be able to make decisions about acceptance and revision of the manuscripts submitted. The editorial board will continue to play a vital role as the backbone of the team of experts called upon to review submissions to the journal. We are also moving towards increased opportunities for electronic submission.
The short reviews, which have been a popular and useful feature of the journal, will continue, and the book review section will be now under the editorship of Professor David Skibinski.
These are exciting times for the journal, and I am confident that its success will continue and be enhanced by our move to the Nature Publishing Group.