Learning how to promote my research (Virus of Unusual Size Kills Anthrax)

This was a banner week for me. I published an article in PLoS One on a novel bacteriophage that I co-discovered while studying naturally occurring anthrax in Etosha National Park, Namibia. This new phage is quite different from previously described Bacillus anthracis phages and is notable because it physically large and has a large genome for a Siphovirus (168kb).

When a manuscript is accepted by PLoS One, they send you instructions about what date the paper will be published and then they say something about how if you will be preparing press materials for this manuscript, you must inform our press team in advance…

Well I’ve never prepared a press release but this got me thinking. Last year one of my friends did and his work ended up in Wired Magazine (that’s so cool!). Also I’ve become increasingly interested in how to use social and other media to promote your research. (Somehow my paper on how vulture guano affects soil bacterial communities was under appreciated, even though I think that it is a very nice paper.)


And so I contacted the UC Davis Office of Strategic Communications and asked if they would be willing to work with me on a press release for our paper. And they were! We checked with our collaborators’ home institutions but none were interested in issuing in a joint press release (somehow they failed to see the possibilities for a Giant Virus from Dead Zebra Kills Anthrax).

Both the paper and the press release came out on Monday afternoon and the university also published a post based on it on the UC Davis Egghead blog. I tweeted the blog post (but I don’t have many followers), posted it on Facebook (mostly friends and family not in science), and went home.

On the way to work the next morning, I received an email from my husband saying “You’ve made it now!” He had received an email from a friend who found an article about our press release on the front page of Reddit (for newbies like me Reddit is a news and entertainment website with the slogan, “the front page of the internet”). Of course there were a lot of inane comments and most people did not read our paper (which was not linked in the article posted on Reddit). Still this was very fun!

All in all, the press release yielded a wide range of articles a number of online magazines and was even published in Russian and German (but this version dropped me in favor of my German and Swiss collaborators). My favorite title is “Anthrax faces silent war with giant deadly killer” (on World Science) but the Pig Site’s Rotting Zebra Bacteria Can Kill Anthrax is a close second.

Then I received a tweet from a producer at WNYC’s The Takeaway wanting to chat. So now I’m famous and you can listen to me here!

 I’ll have to let you know if this helps advance phage research. But we’ve already received one request for the phage from a government lab and my collaborators were so impressed with the widespread interest in this anthrax phage that they are now going to include virulent anthrax strains in the testing of the lysin protein that the phage uses to rupture cells.


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