Why and how we wrote a review during lockdown

At the end of 2019, Lisa Weixler was the first PhD student to join our lab. In Spring 2020 Jeffrey Momoh and Katja Schäringer joined. Jeff joined us for his master thesis, Katja joined our Department as PhD student and is co-supervised by us. As the lockdown hit in March, we were left wondering what to do. As we’d just published a review, we were not keen on taking on another one so soon. On the other hand, writing a review would be a perfect way to keep our new students occupied in a meaningful way during a difficult period. After a careful inventory of the literature on ADP-ribosylation, we decided not to write another review about the modification of proteins with ADP-ribose, as excellent reviews on this topic have been written recently.

On the other hand, the modification of DNA and RNA with ADP-ribose is a whole new world. Although it has been identified earlier on in other organisms, in mammals it was first described only a few years ago. Much of the available data on human enzymes stems from in vitro experiments, leaving it open for now whether it is actually occurring in cells at all. Nevertheless, we thought this might a very interesting topic to dive into. We drafted an outline for a potential review and contacted a journal to see whether there might be interest in this topic. Once the journal confirmed potential interest, we went ahead!

We first met up using Teams to discuss, then switched to Zoom. We talked about the outline and progress. We took apart difficult papers and slowly smoothed out the duplicated references, inserted into different parts by different contributors that were later merged. Sections were accidentally overlapping too much, or deemed not relevant later on. It reminded me of the tide coming in: each wave hitting the beach a bit further up, only to withdraw and extend again, crawling slowly up onto the beach. It may have been frustrating at times. But we all also learned a lot, including online meeting skills! After starting on Teams and continuing on Zoom, we finished on Slack…

Multiple authors were actively involved in writing this review, so needless to say, also revising the draft(s) took some effort. We renamed the file from something that approximated “NAR_review_v5_final_FINALLY_final_2” to “Weixler_NAR_submission” for submission. The review process was pleasant, as all reviewers were quite positive and made useful suggestions to improve our work. We were also amused by some comments, such as reviewer 1 who thought it very well written, whereas reviewer 2 thought the English was very hard to follow. This was a good experience as well, to experience first-hand how arbitrary science can be and that negative reviewer comments shouldn’t be taken too hard. In the end, altering our manuscript according to their suggestions has made it better.

Creating this review was thus a positive experience for all of us: learn to use diverse online-meeting software, to dive into a completely new topic while locked in at home, to experience the academic publishing process and to coordinate writing an extensive piece with multiple authors. If you’re interested in reading the product of our COVID19 lockdown here goes:

ADP-ribosylation of nucleic acids: from in vitro characterisation to in vivo function

by Lisa Weixler, Katja Schäringer, Jeffrey Momoh, Bernhard Lüscher, Karla Feijs and Roko Žaja

Available here.

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