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Four PLOS authors receive 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Publishing in Open Access journals is not only ethically rewarding, it also can be financially rewarding.

Through the Breakthrough Prize – initiated and funded in 2012 by Bay Area biotechnology innovators, social media venture capitalists and successful internet entrepreneurs – outstanding scientists working in the fields of life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics receive recognition, money and a bit of glamour.
This year, four of the five scientists awarded a $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences chose to publish some of their work in Open Access journals over the course of their careers. In so doing, Edward S. Boyden, Karl Deisseroth, John Hardy and Svante Pääbo ensure their research is available for distribution, discovery and reuse, introducing opportunities for all scientists to build on their discoveries.

Collectively, the four PLOS authors and Breakthrough Prize winners have published 55 articles in PLOS journals: 35 articles in PLOS ONE, nine articles in PLOS Genetics, eight articles in PLOS Biology and three articles in PLOS Computational Biology. They’ve also rocked out to the tunes of Pharrell Williams in an Oscar-style ceremony.

PLOS authors and this year’s awardees include:

  • Karl Deisseroth, professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, also for advancing optogenetics. Deisseroth and Boyden collaborated on a seminal paper in 2005 that made the optogenetics technique more widespread. Deisseroth’s eight articles all were published in PLOS ONE and cover topics ranging from use of optogenetics to monitor stem cell-derived dopamine neurons in a Parkinson’s Disease model and new methods for applying optogenetics to study the peripheral nervous system, to identifying the mesolimbic dopamine system as the point of early convergence where addictive drugs alter neural circuits.
  • John Hardy, professor of neurology at University College London, for discovering a genetic mutation implicated in early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Hardy has published 19 articles in PLOS investigating genetic linkages between certain cancers and neurodegeneration, a multifunctional cell signaling enzyme as a potential drug target against Alzheimer’s disease and processes implicated in late onset Alzheimer’s disease related to cholesterol metabolism. Together with colleagues Hardy launched an Open Access collection of mutated fibroblast cell lines to study neurodegenerative disease, deposited at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke and available for anyone to use.
  • Svante Pääbo, a biologist focused on ancient genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, for sequencing ancient DNA and genomes in order to understand the origins of modern humans, the relationship between humans and extinct relatives, and the evolution of human populations and genetic traits. Pääbo has published a total of 22 articles with PLOS and in 2008 was interviewed by Jane Gitschier for PLOS Genetics. Pääbo’s work uncovered that mitochondrial DNA sequenced from Neanderthal fossils is not present in large quantities in early humans, identified the date of interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans and through high-throughput RNA sequencing of human, chimpanzee and macaque brains discovered genes that may have contributed to development of human-specific traits.

While recognizing each of these scientists as leaders in their respective fields, the prizes also acknowledge and reward the collective and collaborative nature of science. In past years and in other categories this year, awards can be shared. This year 1,370 contributors will share a physics prize.

Collaboration and open science have the power to rapidly advance scientific knowledge and discovery. Sometimes the benefits are important but mundane, and other times the benefits are transformative. In both cases, the positive outcomes for society are immediate access to validated data and research results that are discoverable, transparent and preserved for all to distribute and reuse. Watch the awards ceremony video to hear awardee comments on collaboration, community and a love of science.

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