Context is everything

Plant & zo

The science of plants and more

Context is everything

I have been reading a ton of articles lately, in order to get a better grip on phosphoinositide-binding proteins. Slowly, this made me realise that how we present our findings is important. Of course a well written article is easier to read than one that is not. But the order we present our findings in and the context we place them in also has a big impact. It not only determines the chance of them to be picked up by others, but also how they will place your results in context with what they already know and what they will learn in the future. I will give you an example of something that I have been coming across while reading about phosphoinositides.
In one paper (1) it starts with

“PIPs (phosphoinositides) greatly influence growth, development, and responses to external cues.”

Followed by

“PIPs are also known to regulate themselves numerous cellular processes, including membrane trafficking, ion channel activity, cytoskeleton dynamics, cell polarity, vacuolar morphology and chloroplast division.”

Reading this you would be thinking wow this molecule is involved in lots of processes, how can it do this?
In another paper (2), actually in the same journal and issue, has actually the opposite approach, here they start with

“both groups of molecules (small GTPases and phosphoinositides) coordinate trafficking between different membranes as specific mechanisms are in place to ensure their correct spatiotemporal distribution.”

They then explain the general mechanisms before going on with

“Finally, to illustrate the aforementioned concepts, we use the examples of vacuolar sorting and polarized trafficking, notably in the context of tip growth.”

Reading this you might think, this is an interesting mechanism, where else does it apply to?
As the examples above illustrate, the way you present the data affects how it is thought about. What is becoming clear is that phosphoinositides are part of membrane trafficking machinery and that membrane trafficking affects a lot of developmental processes. By placing the membrane trafficking machinery first and the affected processes second Noack and Jailais are helping the reader to make the connection that all the mentioned processes are affected by a single mechanism that through fine tuning can influence them all.
Although, placing the affected processes first and the how by the membrane trafficking machinery second would not prevent you from making this connection, it is not helping either. You will need to understand how phosphoinositides affect each of these processes in turn before you are able to see that in each process they are more or less doing the same thing. Asking the reader to do much more work before coming to the same conclusion.
While it is understandable in the process of discovery that initially things are presented as if they are not interconnected. However, once the connection is made it is important that this is not lost in subsequent reporting of new findings. So in the case of the role of phosphoinositides we can say something like this “phosphoinositides are involved in membrane trafficking and regulation of membrane proteins. Through this they affect not only plant growth, but also development and responses to external cues.”


1. de Campos and Schaaf, The regulation of cell polarity by lipid transfer porteis of the SEC14 family, Current Biology, 2017, 40:158-168
2. Noack and Jaillais, Precision targeting by phosphoinositides: How PIs direct endomembrane trafficking in plants, current Opinion in Plant Biology, 2017, 40:22-23

Published by Femke de Jong

A plant scientist who wants to let people know more about the wonders of plant science. Follow me at @plantandzo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: