our secret agent man infiltrates wikipedia.

Nature has a news article by Declan Butler about a new paper from our secret agent man Tom Jones, in collaboration with Peter Stadler's lab in Leipzig, which is about to appear in RNA Biology.

It's just a short article about SmY RNAs, a family of small nuclear RNAs in nematodes that seem to be involved in trans-splicing somehow. So why's Nature interested in SmY RNAs?

Well, they're not (I suspect). Actually the thing that's cool about this little paper is that it's the inaugural paper in a new section of RNA Biology that's a joint effort with the Rfam database and Wikipedia. The idea is that someone can spend time carefully defining and annotating an RNA sequence family, get traditional scientific credit for it (a short paper in RNA Biology), and deposit it into a database where it'll be lovingly maintained (Rfam), and put the bulk of the annotation into Wikipedia, where anyone can help keep it up to date.

Submission to this section of RNA Biology actually requires "deposition" of a page into Wikipedia. We think this is the first time that a scientific journal has so tightly aligned itself with Wikipedia.

We've been collaborating with the folks at Wikipedia for a while, actually, and all of Rfam's family description pages are editable.

I'd love to extend it to the Pfam protein database, but Rfam is our stalking horse for now. We'll see how the experiment works out.

The issues of using (and trusting) Wikipedia came up briefly a while ago on a committee I'm on, an American Academy of Arts and Sciences panel called Science and the Media, chaired by Don Kennedy (former Science editor) and Geneva Overholser. I mentioned that we'd been running this experiment with Rfam. Don looked pretty interested -- at least right up until the point that I said that we were greatly endebted to a Wikipedia editor pseudonamed Willow, whom we've never met.