Prelights: A community platform for preprint highlights

31 May 2019 - By: Mate Palfy & Michaela Handel

Prelights: A community platform for preprint highlights


By Mate Palfy1 and Michaela Handel2


The posting of preprints (non-peer-reviewed manuscripts) has rapidly taken off in the biological sciences in the past 5 years. Since the launch of bioRxiv in 2013, both preprint submissions and readership numbers have grown exponentially: currently, bioRxiv registers over 2,000 uploaded preprints and over a million downloads per month. Within the research areas relevant to the SEB community, there has always been a strong cell science and plant biology presence on bioRxiv, but we are now seeing increasing contributions from the animal comparative physiology and biomechanics sectors.

The recent adoption of the preprint workflow by biologists can be explained by the numerous benefits that preprints offer. They are freely available, speed up the dissemination of research, and accelerate the progress of science by allowing researchers to build on new findings, often months before publication in a journal. Authors can also benefit from community feedback, which strengthens their manuscripts and generates additional attention for their research. Whilst some scientists still have concerns about preprinted work getting ‘scooped’, preprints can and have been used as a way to establish priority, because they are date-stamped and citable. Posting preprints is particularly useful for early-career researchers (ECRs) because it can facilitate career progression; many hiring committees and funders now consider cited preprints and encourage applicants to include them. But, above all, preprints promote a culture of ‘openness’ in science, and the majority of publishers now have journal policies compatible with preprint posting; for example, Journal of Experimental Biology fully supports preprint deposition and actively facilitates the process through a bidirectional submission portal with bioRxiv.


Whilst preprints can open up discussion of non-peer-reviewed research by the entire scientific community, there has been limited public commenting on preprints so far. A further challenge of preprint posting is volume: over time, it will become increasingly difficult to navigate and keep up with the preprint literature. To address these challenges, The Company of Biologists launched preLights (—a community platform for selecting, highlighting, and commenting on preprints across the biological sciences—in February 2018.

At the heart of preLights is the team of ECRs (called preLighters) who select which preprints to feature and then summarise the key findings of the preprint, highlighting why they think the study is interesting or important. Uniquely, the preLighters often directly question preprint authors about their work, and the resulting discussions are published at the end of the article.

preLights not only raises awareness of preprints and the associated research, but also aims to promote and support the ECRs who write the posts. Becoming a preLighter provides a great opportunity to gain experience in science communication, to keep up to date with the latest research in the field, and to build a scientific network through exciting interactions with fellow scientists. Each preLighter also has the opportunity to create their own ‘Community’ profile, and several have been featured in the ‘Meet the preLighters’ interview series on the site (e.g. see for an interview with Heath MacMillan (Carleton University, Canada), who studies thermal tolerance in insects).

In recognition of preLights’ first anniversary, we are keen to grow our team of ECRs (PhD students, postdocs, and early principal investigators) and increase the contribution from the experimental biology community, particularly in the fields of comparative physiology, biomechanics, neuroethology, and ecophysiology.

Interested? For more information and details of how to apply, go to

1. Community Manager, preLights;

2. Managing Editor, Journal of Experimental Biology

Category: SEB Magazine

Mate Palfy & Michaela Handel

Mate is from Budapest, Hungary, where he studied biology at the Eotvos Lorand University. He completed his PhD at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden, where he worked on gene regulation. Mate now works as a Community Manager for preLights, a preprint highlighting service that was launched over a year ago by The Company of Biologists (a publisher based in Cambridge, UK). His main tasks involve building a community of early-career researchers around preLights, providing them with support, and evolving and promoting this new initiative.

Michaela Handel is Managing Editor of Journal of Experimental Biology.