miR-263b and me

I spent the majority of my 20’s in graduate school. Many of my friends received promotions and obtained fancy titles while I spiced up my desk by occasionally changing the post-its around. Both of my brothers went on to graduate education (law, accounting), graduated and started jobs in the time I spent carefully staring at fruit flies at my lab bench. I am not complaining about it. I was incredibly privileged to be paid to learn. After many years of grinding, I reached 2018 which is when I got a journal to publish my work, completed my dissertation, and obtained the right to make others call me doctor in non-medical situations.

I think science should be done as collaboratively as possible. I find it really sad to think about all the research out there that is stuck in limbo because it isn’t publishable. If we could find out about all the experiments that didn’t result in positive results, I think we’d save a lot of time and money. I say all this to convince myself that I’m a reasonable person.

In the past few months, I learned about a paper on miR-263b and circadian behavior. As a nervous scientist, I am always happy to hear when my findings have been replicated by other groups. The bulk of my thesis and my paper was about whether small RNAs (microRNAs) in glial cells (non-neuron brain cell) can affect circadian behavior. After looking at many different microRNAs, I focused on two in particular – miR-263b and miR-274. This is kind of like if you spent years studying Shakespeare, but more specifically the sonnets and even more specifically, 106 and 18. So now, to my grievance…

Here’s part of Figure 2D from my paper

In this experiment, I put miR-262b knockout flies through a behavioral experiment that tells me how rhythmic the flies are in constant darkness. In data presented this way, each little dot represents a single fly. I concluded that the knockout flies are significantly less rhythmic than its control, the heterozygous (flies with half the amount of miR-263b) flies. Side note: we use heterozygous flies as controls because frequently, having even half the amount of something is enough to keep things relatively normal.

The authors of the aforementioned paper also put miR-263b knockout flies through a behavioral assay that lets us see how rhythmic the flies are in constant darkness conditions. They also conclude that flies without miR-263b are less rhythmic than wild-type control flies (first columns vs second columns).

Perhaps the weirdest thing about all this is that these people knew my paper existed because they cited it in the discussion section. There’s one sentence: “A recent study showed that glial inhibition/overexpression of miR-263b disrupted circadian behavior rhythms”. Never mind the repeat experiments, the entire paper reads as if there is no other work on miR-263b in circadian behavior.

I actually find the rest of their paper quite interesting. It’s part of the conflict I feel in trying to assert myself. Is this a big deal? Is this not that bad? Maybe it’s just a small thing. Maybe trying to claim the title of “person who discovered miR-263b can alter circadian behavior” is not worth arguing about. It still feels like years of effort being casually erased. I know that’s a bit dramatic and the greater good of getting results out there is still being served. I guess this is what it is.

*we did try contacting the journal and they ignored us

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