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Meet PLOS Biology Senior Editor, Roli Roberts

Get to know the editor behind your manuscript! We’re kicking off our new, monthly Meet-Your-Editor series with an interview from senior editor Roli Roberts.

Roli joined PLOS Biology in 2011 and oversees the journal’s homepage, social media, and Biologue blog. He chats about his path to PLOS, favorite editorial projects, recommended reading, and that one time he was in a rock band.

What background and expertise do you bring to PLOS Biology? 

I ran a research lab for more than 10 years, working mostly in genetics and cell biology of neuromuscular disorders, but doing a lot of collaborative work that took in evolutionary biology, structural biology, breast cancer, HIV, Crohn’s disease, heart malformations and developmental disorders of the brain. In terms of what led me to the editorial role, I love writing; whenever I did collaborations, my colleagues always seemed to manipulate things so that I wrote and edited their papers for them.

What piece of PLOS’s mission motivates you the most?

The democratization of human knowledge. I grew up in a small town in Zambia, and I love the fact that everything we publish is immediately available to 7.5 billion people, regardless of their ability to pay.

Any favorite collections, projects, or collaborations from your time at PLOS? What makes them stand out?

I’ve really enjoyed three occasions on which I handled highly contentious papers. In each case, the reviewers’ opinions differed strikingly, and we ended up publishing the papers alongside a commentary from the Academic Editor that explained why we’d gone ahead with publication, and advising the readers how to interpret the results. It was so much fun that we wrote an Editorial about it.

What is your favorite part of being an editor?

I enjoy trying to unpack our content for diverse audiences, in my role of writing copy for the PLOS Biology homepage, Tweeting from @PLOSBiology, and editing Press Releases. While some papers are of broader interest than others, I do enjoy the challenge of trying to interest people in more arcane stuff too. We used to write Synopses which I found to be so much fun that I ended up writing 26 of them.

Roli’s recommended reading:

In PLOS BiologyIn your local library…
Fish, mirrors, and a gradualist perspective on self-awareness by Frans de Waal discusses whether fish can recognize themselves in a mirror.

Hot mitochondria? by Nick Lane explores whether mitochondria run 10 degrees hotter than our cells.

Air pollution as cause of mental disease: Appraisal of the evidence by John Ioannidis considers air pollution as a cause of psychiatric diseases.
The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness


The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber


Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Fun fact about you?

I was lead singer in a band at uni in the eighties, variously called Quirk of Fate, Good Question, and others. We did a handful of gigs, did two self-funded recording sessions, and there may be photos involving mullets. 

Is there a scientific field outside your area of expertise you’re interested in? If so, what is it?

Evolutionary biology. As an academic I always tried to contrive my own work to bring it round to evolution, and now as an editor I get to see more than I ever did. I’m particularly fascinated in the earliest (pre-Cambrian) and latest (human evolution) periods, but anything in between will do!

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