Celebrating 5 Years of Communications Biology: An interview with Dr. Mathew Seymour on eDNA

January 2023 represents the 5-year anniversary of the first set of publications from Communications Biology. To mark the occasion, we are interviewing some of our very first authors about their experiences with the journal, and how their work has evolved since these publications.
Celebrating 5 Years of Communications Biology: An interview with Dr. Mathew Seymour on eDNA
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Dr. Mathew Seymour is an Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong, where he leads a research group focused on environmental DNA (eDNA) and ecology. Dr. Seymour's 2018 publication in Communications Biology (Seymour et al. 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s42003-017-0005-3) was one of our very first articles, which was later expanded on in a Comment on the same topic.

Dr. Mathew Seymour

Could you please share a few details about your academic background, including your current position and research interests?

I did my B.Sc. at the University of Wyoming before doing a M.Sc. at Hólar University College in Iceland and a PhD from ETH in Zürich, Switzerland. Afterwards I did a series of postdocs including for the USDA in the US, at Bangor University in Wales and at SLU in Uppsala Sweden. My academic background through my early career is a bit diverse as it started with evolutionary biology, transitioned to metacommunity ecology and then environmental DNA and global biogeography. Currently I’m an Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong, specializing on environmental DNA (eDNA) and ecology.

What has been the biggest surprise for you as a new investigator, setting up your own lab?

Oh well, it’s a new continent and new job, so there are quite a few to be honest, with a new one popping up every week it seems. Surprises are part of the gig, so you learn to keep an eye out for them and adapt to each one.

You first published with Communications Biology in 2018 (Seymour et al. 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s42003-017-0005-3). What were the key results of that study, and how did they tie into the mission of your research group?

The main results showed that eDNA degradation was promoted by environmental factors (here acidity), that eDNA degradation trends were similar across different species, and that eDNA was detectable up to 48 hours, which translated to about 30km of channelized transport distance.

The study was one of the experiments we planned as a group during my time at Bangor. The mesocosm were a unique feature of mesocosm’s location, which was located at Llyn Brianne reservoir in mid-Wales. Llyn Brianne has a natural environmental gradient of streams feeding into the reservoir, which has been studied rather extensively for the past decades. The main aim of our publication with Communications Biology was to determine the interactive effect of abiotic factors and transport decay on eDNA signals, which we were able to successful test with this rather unique semi-natural experimental setup.

How has this project evolved since that publication? Are there any exciting future directions that you can discuss?

The research from this research complemented other ongoing research efforts at the time that looked at different spatial levels. A catchment level assessment of land use and temporal dynamic on eDNA detection (Seymour et al. 2021 Communications Biology, DOI: 10.1038/s42003-021-02031-2). We also published a national scale assessment of eDNA biomonitoring study showing traditional biometric adaptions vs a multi-taxonomic network approach using molecular data (Seymour et al. 2020 SOTEN, DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138801). A large-scale data collection that I led and conducted involving over 285 spatial and temporal data points along the extent of a 35km river has been repeatedly presented, but unfortunately, I have been barred from submitting a manuscript draft. Feel free to check out the slides though (10.13140/RG.2.2.13109.14566).

Why did you choose to submit your work to a new journal like Communications Biology?

Academic publishing can be a needlessly complex ordeal and one that I try to minimize so that I can focus on the next project. Communications Biology has always offered me a very straightforward and professional process to publishing.

Was open-access an important consideration to you at the time, or do you think that it influenced the reception to your work?

Yes, very much so. It is important to make our work as widely accessible as possible as the research is publicly funded, and it helps bring attention to our research efforts.

You've published with us multiple times, as an author on both Articles and a Comment. Why did you come back after your first publication?

 Consistency and professionalism in the editorial process were key factors. Communications Biology offered a straightforward approach to handling publications that balanced feedback from reviewers while also respecting authorship creativity and originality.

 

Has your experience with the journal changed over time?

No, but it has been consistent, which is a big factor when considering where to publish.

 

You have also been a reviewer for Communications Biology. Why is engaging in peer review important?

It is important to provide peer reviews if you are publishing academically. It is also very rewarding to contribute to the process and you get to see a lot of interesting research early.

This interview was conducted by Associate Editor, David Favero. Banner Image Credit: Lukas Hartmann.

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