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Friday, 02 September 2016 12:44

Zika Sharing

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Zika virus plaque assays in progress. Zika virus plaque assays in progress.

Of all the scientific results that my laboratory has produced over the years, I am most satisfied by those that maximally benefit the field. In this category falls the assay for determining the titer of Zika virus in plaque forming units per milliliter.

In ‘Counting Zika Virus’  I described our development of a method for measuring the amount of infectious Zika virus in any sample. At the end of the article I wrote: "We are happy to share our Zika virus plaque assay protocol with anyone who needs it."

Since that article was published in May 2016, there have been a steady stream of requests for the protocol, about two or three each week. They are coming from all over the world, from virologists and non-virologists in academia, in companies, and in government agencies. They are all grateful to receive the information, and I am happy to help push research forward on this important virus.

Unfortunately not all scientists readily share their protocols or reagents with others. When we began to work on Zika virus in February 2016, I discovered that a number of investigators were refusing to share their samples with other laboratories. My dismay with this behavior was expressed in a article I wrote on this experience. Here is an excerpt:

There are countless stories about scientists not sharing reagents because they want to be the first to make a discovery. This behavior allows them to publish first, secure more grant funding, garner invitations to speak at meetings, and generally stroke their egos.

Dear fellow scientists: scientific research is not about you and your ego. It is about contributing to human health. Get with the program.

A similar position was expressed by Ivan Oransky in a STAT article called ‘Science, get over yourself: Zika data-sharing should be the norm, not the exception’.  He praised the announcement from a group of 30 journals that they would share data on Zika virus. But he also was cynical because scientists should share all of their data. He wrote:

More to the point, the journals involved here — including such heavy hitters as Science, the Lancet, the Journal of the American Medical Association and NEJM — are being more than a little disingenuous in jumping on the data-sharing bandwagon. After all, federally funded scientists who submit papers to their pages are supposed to share their data openly anyway, and many affirmed similar policies last year. Journals are notoriously lax at enforcing those requirements, however. They want big papers that will be cited frequently, and they do what they have to do to get them.

Scientists have always had a sharing problem, and it’s not going to be solved soon. For our part, we are sharing our Zika virus reagents, including a simple plaque assay.

Vincent Racaniello

Vincent Racaniello is a virologist at Columbia University and science communicator. He is using Zika Diaries to communicate the personal and behind the scenes experiences of his laboratory as it moves from working on poliovirus (for 35 years) to Zika virus.

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