Tribute to Gary King, who steps down as Editor for FEMS Microbiology Ecology

04-03-20 Joseph Shuttleworth

We wish to pay tribute to Gary King, Professor at Louisiana State University (USA), who steps down as an Editor for FEMS Microbiology Ecology after 27 years handling manuscripts on the Editorial Board. We wish him a warm goodbye from everyone in the FEMS network, and thank him for his valued commitment over the years.

He was the go-to-editor for manuscripts in the areas of marine microbiology, ecophysiology, biogeochemical processes (in particular S and N cycling), biodegradation, community interactions, and so many other often peculiar topics that defy labeling. To commemorate his long term contribution to the FEMS journals, we asked Gary some questions about how he first became involved with the journal, his highlights over past few decades, and what he thinks will be the future directions for the journal and the field:

Gary King with Albus at a Mardi Gras parade in Louisiana (USA).

What was your first involvement with FEMS Microbiology Ecology? Is there anyone In particular who brought you to the journal?

I only recently realized how long I had been serving as an editor for FEMS Microbiology Ecology.  I knew that it had been a while, but several months ago I happened to notice on my CV that my service began in 1993!  Once that shock sunk in, it occurred to me that it was time for new names and faces to step in, since I have no special knowledge or wisdom relative to the thousands of others engaged in microbial ecology.

My work as a reviewer for FEMS Microbiology Ecology began prior to that, but I don’t have a date.  I suspect it originated with requests for reviews from Henry Blackburn and Tom Fenchel, who were editors in the “early days.”  Henry especially, but also Tom, connected me with the journal.  I had known Henry as a PhD student, and then developed a close and lasting friendship with him during a wonderful 2-year stay at the Institute of Microbial Ecology (now the Department of Microbial Ecology) at Aarhus University (Denmark).  After I returned to my faculty position in the US, Henry and Tom stayed in touch, and in relatively short order I was asked so serve as an editor.

I continued on, happy to serve without regard for the time that had passed.  I also served 9 years on the editorial board for Applied and Environmental Microbiology, and for multiple years (I’ve forgotten how many) on Aquatic Microbial Ecology.  I continue to serve for Frontiers in Microbiology.  Service to our profession through reviewing and editing manuscripts and proposals is part of what we all do, but it’s critical for the overall scientific process.

Even so, changes in names and faces can be a good thing. I know that FEMS Microbiology Ecology has great leadership and a fantastic team of editors, so I step aside confident in a bright future for the journal.”

What were the highlights of your time with the journal? Are there are papers, people, or events you remember with particular fondness?

There have been so many excellent papers, and so many outstanding authors, that it would be a real challenge to try to name just one or even a few.  It wouldn’t be particularly fair either.  What I can see as a notable accomplishment though is the broadening of the authors whose work is published.  FEMS Microbiology Ecology originally served a somewhat geographically limited audience, not unlike several journals published in the US.

That has changed.  While “European” remains in the society and journal names, both are global in scope.  The journal draws from pretty much everywhere microbiologists are engaged in microbial ecology.  The manuscripts it publishes likewise represent the breadth of the discipline, and include examples of the best science being done today.

This growth and expansion is due to multiple factors, but at least some credit has to be given to the society (FEMS) that supports the journal, and to the Editors-in-Chief who have been outstanding stewards of the journal throughout its history.  Their work has not only maintained FEMS Microbiology Ecology during a period of major changes in the publication process (e.g., analog to digital), they have nurtured the journal in the face of stiff competition for authors.  They deserve considerable thanks.”

FEMS Microbiology Ecology has been going strong for many years now, what do you think is the future direction for the type of research published in the journal?

The study of microbial ecology has benefited from the development of a remarkable toolkit that continues to expand, and that is enabling us to ask questions that were hardly imaginable as little as 10 years ago.  Still, it’s a bit humbling to think about the comparatively rudimentary toolkit that was available to pioneers such as Winogradsky, Beijerinck, van Niel, and Bass-Becking, and to realize that we are still building on their work and addressing questions they asked.

Now, however, we have the capability of putting together extraordinarily detailed insights about composition, activities, and interactions in ways that provide for greater predictive capability.  What’s especially inspiring and exciting are the possibilities for working across large spatial and temporal scales, and for tackling questions about microbes as integral parts of complete systems, not just as discrete entities carrying out one curious process or another.

Systems perspectives in microbial ecology have had and will continue to have enormous success.  They are responsible in part for solutions to enormously important practical problems, such wastewater treatment, and for illuminating microbe-host interactions that affect human health.  Nonetheless, the real power of systems approaches may lie in their application to understanding, predicting, and adapting to a rapidly changing planet.  We still don’t have a full grasp of recent changes, let alone those that are coming.  What we do know though is that microbes will play critical roles in the changes that occur, and they we won’t be able to adapt without including them in our models and our plans.

Without a doubt, FEMS Microbiology Ecology will be helping to tell the story through the work of its outstanding authors, editors and staff.  For my part, I’ll be looking forward to reading about the fascinating and critical discoveries ahead, and adding a little nugget from time to time.”

Browse the latest issue of FEMS Microbiology Ecology

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