Journal Scope and Content

BioTreks is an open access peer reviewed journal for high school-based synthetic biology research.  Each year, students are invited to submit original work detailing their research designs, laboratory results, and personal perspectives on synthetic biology and education. In April or May, the authors present the drafts of their papers at an online conference for discussion and review by their peers.  Following the conference, the students perfect their manuscripts based on the feedback and questions they receive from conference attendees.  A detailed schedule of the current publication cycle can be found here.

BioTreks articles are prepared and published in one of four formats depending on their content.  These formats are separately defined for Laboratory Reports and Design, Perspective and Methods Articles.

  • Lab Reports.  Lab Reports should describe the results of at least one complete experiment and draw meaningful conclusions based on these results.  It is perfectly acceptable for an article to describe research that reproduces the work of others so long as the work is referenced in the manuscript.  Articles that report negative results and failed experiments are also welcomed, provided the authors are able to draw meaningful insights from the results.
  • Design Articles.  Synthetic biology is about taking a top-down approach to engineering biological systems that serve a social or environmental problem.  Successful synthetic biology projects generally start by considering what the solution is going to look like on the system, device, and part levels.  Design Articles provide opportunities for teams to carefully consider and describe each of these project components before beginning their lab work.
  • Perspectives Articles.  Perspectives Articles provide free-flowing commentary on a wide range of topics related to performing synthetic biology research and education in high schools.  These manuscripts do not follow a rigid format and are divided into sections based on the authors’ needs.  Perspectives Articles are well suited for presenting new ideas and reviews of books and technologies that do not document hands-on laboratory work.
  • Methods Articles.  These submissions provide detailed procedures and tips for performing standard synthetic biology techniques or assays.  The purpose of Methods Articles is to guide others in using techniques that have been successfully applied and mastered by the authors in their own high school labs.

The Publication Process

The BioTreks publication process generally consists of eight steps, which begin with the authors submitting an abstract for presentation at the annual conference and end with the article being published online.  Each of this steps is briefly described below.

  • Abstract Submission.  The process begins by students submitting abstracts for papers that they would like to present at the BioTreks conference and publish in the online journal. The abstract submissions will generally provide the title followed by a list of authors and a brief description of the work.  The submission also indicates whether the students plan on preparing a Lab Report, or Design, Method, or Perspective Article.
  • Manuscript preparation.  After submitting an abstract, the students begin the process of preparing their manuscript for presentation at the BioTreks conference.  This is accomplished by drafting the manuscript directly using a Google Docs template that we will provide for you.  Although authors will have unrestricted access to editing their manuscripts during the preparation phase, they will only be able to modify their papers using Suggestion Mode after beginning the peer review process.  This will allow reviewers to track any changes the authors make to their manuscript in response to their comments and suggestions.
  • Peer review.  Peer review is an important part of scientific publication.  The process generally involves impartial experts in the field reviewing the author’s submission for accuracy and completeness.  When preparing a paper for publication in BioTreks, peer review actually takes place during the online conference, when students, mentors, and experts read and discuss the manuscripts that the students have posted online.  During the online conference you will most likely be participating as an author of your own work and a peer reviewer of everyone else’s work.
  • Author revisions.  Following the conference, authors will have about a month to modify and improve their submissions based on the questions and feedback they receive from students, teachers, and scientists at the conference.  It is important that, as an author, you take advantage of this time to make any necessary corrections to your manuscript.

Note: In the month following the online conference, authors are expected to respond to every one of the reviewers comments by detailing how the authors addressed the readers’ concerns in the revised manuscript or explaining why the authors have decided not to follow a reader’s suggestion.  During this time, authors will only be allowed to modify their manuscripts using Suggestion Mode so that the judges and other reviewers can track the changes that are being made. Failure to adequately address all reviewer comment may result in the paper being rejected for publication in the journal.

  • Editorial review.  At the end of the revision period, the student manuscripts will be locked down and the BioTreks judges will review the documents to decide which are acceptable for publication.  Papers will generally be deemed acceptable for publication, provided the authors have explicitly and adequately addressed ALL of reviewers’ comments and adhered to ALL formatting requirements, as described below.  During their review, the judges will also award medals to those articles which excel in key areas of peer review.
  • Copy editing.  Copy editing involves checking the manuscript for grammatical errors and reformatting it to fit the journal style. This is also the point at which the figures and tables are inserted within the body of the text. Copy editing will be performed by BioTreks staff between July and September.
  • Author review.  Following copy editing, the authors will receive a pdf-formatted proof of the final article and be given a chance to identify any last-minute mistakes that may have been introduced during the copy edit process.  At this point the authors are only permitted to recommend minor edits to the article.
  • Publication.  The completed articles will published online as part of the current issue of BioTreks.

Registration and Publication Fees

We charge each team a nominal fee to register for the annual BioTreks conference and publish the paper in BioTreks.  Unfortunately, this fee is necessary to cover costs associated with hosting the conference, proof-reading the accepted manuscripts, and formatting the papers for publication.  In order to ensure that BioTreks remains open to everyone, we’re happy to discuss reducing or waiving these fees for teams that cannot afford the added expenses.  Please contact us directly if you have any questions or concerns about covering this costs.

Note: The registration from requires that each team identify one teacher or mentor who will be the primary point of contact for correspondence regarding BioTreks conference participation and manuscript publication.  This individual must be at least 21 years old and be willing to sign the BioTreks publication agreement on behalf of the team.

Manuscript Sections

Manuscripts should be organized into sections according to whether the material is intended to be published as a (L)ab Report or (D)esign, (M)ethod, or (P)erspective Article.  Excellent examples for of each of these formats can be found among the papers published in previous years.  The different sections are described below in the order in which they should appear in the manuscripts.

  • Title (D, L, M, P).  The title should concisely summarize the paper and any significant conclusions.
  • Running Title (D, L, M, P).  The running title is a shorter version of the title, which is displayed in the upper right margin of the paper.  The running title must be no more than 60 characters long.
  • Authors (D, L, M, P).  The comma-delimited names of authors should be listed in alphabetical order by last name.
  • Mentors (D, L, M, P). The comma-delimited names of teachers and mentors should be listed in alphabetical order by last name.  Also place an asterisks after the mentor’s name who will serve as the primary contact for the team.
  • Affiliations (D, L, M, P). Provide a comma-delimited list of the organizations with which the authors are affiliated. In most cases the Affiliations section will simply be the name of the school that you attend.
  • Correspondence (D, L, M, P). List the name and email address of one or two mentors who can respond to email inquiries about the paper.  These names and emails will be published with the article.
  • Abstract (D, L, M, P).  The abstract should summarize the article in less than 300 words by briefly touching on the key points covered in the background, methods, results, conclusions sections of research papers.  Similarly, the abstract for design, methods, and perspectives papers should summarize the content addressed in each of its major sections.

Note: The abstract cannot contain any figures, tables, or citations of referenced literature.

  • Video (D, L, M, P). Each manuscript can optionally be accompanied by a short video in which the authors briefly describe the motivations, methodologies, and results of their project. The video is intended to give conference attendees and prospective readers a brief overview of the student project and encourage them to read the article.  This section of the manuscript will provide a link to the video, which you will upload to your Google Drive directory.

Note: The video must be saved in one of the following file formats: MOV, MPEG4, MP4, AVI, WMV, MPEGPS, FLV.

  • Keywords (D, L, M, P). List 3-5 comma-delimited words or phrases that will help locate the article in a search.
  • Author Contributions (D, L, M, P). Every manuscript should include a paragraph that briefly describes how each author contributed to the paper and the related research.  For brevity, authors will be referenced by their initials.  The following is an example of a well-written contributions statement:

    “A.B., B.C., C.D., D.E., E.F., F.G., and G.H. conceived and planned the experiments. A.B., B.C., C.D. and D.E. carried out the experiments. A.B., F.G. and E.F. planned and carried out the simulations. J.K., K.L., A.B., B.C., D.E., C.D., F.J., and F.G. contributed to sample preparation. A.B., B.C., C.D., D.E., FJ, E.F., F.G. and G.H. contributed to the interpretation of the results. A.B. took the lead in writing the manuscript. All authors provided critical feedback and helped shape the research, analysis and manuscript.”

  • Background (D, L, M).  The background section describes the experimental objectives and why they are important.  This section will generally start by describing the big problem that the researchers are trying to solve, how they plan to go about doing this, and how the current experiment will support this process.  Remember to cite all sources of information used here or elsewhere in the paper.  See the Reference section for more details.
  • Systems Level (D). Design Papers should contain a section which describes the team’s solution in the context of the complete biological system.  This section deals with how the system works as a whole.
  • Device Level (D). In Design Papers, the Device Level section addresses the key functional components of the system.  Devices would include the engineered organisms and any functional pathways that are required for these organisms to perform their jobs.
  • Parts Level (D).  The Parts Level section of a Design Paper shows how specific genetic components are to be combined to make the functional operons pathways described in the previous section.
  • Safety (D). Design Papers should also include a brief discussion about how the proposed system will be safely constructed, tested, and employed to avoid harm to the developers, users, community, and environment.
  • Materials and Methods (L).  This section is designed to tell other researchers everything they need to know to reproduce the reported experiment.  It accomplishes this by providing a brief but detailed description of the various procedures that were followed when conducting the reported experiments.  It also details the materials that were used and often lists the supplier of these materials in parenthesis.  The Materials and Methods section should also contain a subsection that details the team’s approaches to laboratory and environmental safety.

Note: The Materials and Methods section should not contain numbered or bulleted lists.  All procedures should be described in concise paragraphs with the manufacturers of critical reagents and kits named in parenthesis.  When following a protocol that accompanies a commercial kit, it’s generally sufficient to indicate that the assay was performed “in accordance with the manufacturer’s protocol.”

  • Requirements (M). A requirements section should be included with all methods manuscripts to describe in separate subsections, the time, equipment, supply, and reagent requirements for the described procedure.  The purpose of this section is to help the reader assess whether they have access to the necessary resources for performing the procedures.
  • Procedures (M). The procedures section of a methods paper generally details the processes involved in performing a particular technique as nested lists of the individually numbered steps.
  • Notes (M).  The notes section is also unique to methods papers and is used to provide tips and suggestions regarding the performance of different steps in the procedure.  This section consists of a numbered series of notes which are specifically referenced in the procedures sections as Note 1, Note 2, Note 3, etc…
  • Results (L). This section is used to describe the results of the reported laboratory study.  Results sections are generally arranged in subsections according each set of experimental outcomes.  Subsection titles should concisely state the conclusions that can be drawn from the reported data.  Each section is generally accompanied by one or more figures or tables to help the reader understand and interpret the data reported in this section.
  • Discussions (D, L, M).  In Lab Reports, the Discussions section gives the authors an opportunity to summarize their experimental results and describe how they met or failed to meet study objectives.  When written for a Methods Paper, the Discussions section should be used to summarize advantages and shortcomings of the method and suggest ways for improving the process.
  • Next Steps (D, L, M, P).  Every BioTreks paper needs a section that briefly describes the next steps to be performed by your team or another group to develop or implement the ideas discussed in your manuscript.  Ideally, this section should propose one or more discrete research activities that can be reasonably accomplished over the course of a semester using equipment, reagents, and skills that are available in a typical high school synthetic biology lab.
  • Body (P).  The main body of Perspectives Papers replace the Background, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussions sections of research articles with content that is organized into sections and subsections of the authors’ choosing.  In this way, Perspectives Papers read more like a magazine article than a scientific research paper.
  • Acknowledgements (D, L, M, P).  This section generally consists of one or two brief paragraphs which recognize individuals and organizations who made the reported study possible through the contribution of knowledge, insights, or material resources.
  • References (D, L, M, P).  This section contains an alphabetized list of every publication that has been cited in the article. Each of these references must be cited at least once in the text by author and year or title and formatted according to the standards set out in the APA Style GuideGoogle Docs has a built-in citation tool, which makes it easy to format and cite your references using the APA style.

The Google Citation Tool

BioTreks articles use the APA Style to reference and cite published sources of information.  Fortunately, Google Docs has a built-in citation tool, which makes it easy to format, organize, and cite information sources within your manuscript.

To access the citation tool from within Google Docs, select Tools > Citations from the main menu.  This will open a panel on the right side of your browser that allows you to add and cite references.

The first thing you’ll need to do after opening this panel is select “APA (7th ed.)” from the dropdown menu.

Next, choose “+ Add citation source” to create a new reference.  This will open a dialog that prompts you to enter key pieces of information about your source, depending on whether it’s a book, journal article, or some other piece of information.

As you add new new references they will be listed in the citations window.  To cite any one of these references in your article:

  1. Place your cursor where you want the citation to appear in your manuscript.
  2. Hover over the reference with your mouse.
  3. Select the “Cite” button that appears in the upper right corner of the the reference.

Once you’ve finished adding all the references to your document, place your cursor under the References section header of you manuscript and select “Insert Bibliography” at the bottom of the Google Docs Citations window.  This will insert a properly formatted list of references into your manuscript.

Tables and Figures

Authors are encouraged to include tables and figures as a means of directly supporting the points that they are trying to make in the text.  All tables and figures must be specifically cited in the text (i.e. see Table 1, see Figure 1) and should be placed just after the paragraph where they are first referenced.

Note: Tables must be rendered and formatted in Google Docs using the Insert>Table drop down menu.  Unfortunately, we cannot accept images of tables that are generated in another application and pasted into Google Docs as a graphic.

Figures should be uploaded into your Google Drive directory as high resolution images. The graphics should also be inserted into your manuscript and accompanied by a descriptive caption, which is added as inline text immediately following the imported image.  Each caption should begin with the figure number (i.e. “Figure 1”) and start with a sentence which summarizes the main point of the figure.

Note: All figures must adhere to the following standards for a manuscript to be published in BioTreks:

  • Graphics must be the original work of the authors or used with the expressed written permission of the copyright holder.
  • Graphics must be rendered as png, jpeg, or pdf files.  Other file types, such as tiff and ppt are not acceptable.
  • Graphics must have a minimum resolution of 1200 dpi when rendered on the printed page.
  • All text that is contained in a graphic must remain legible when the image is rendered on a printed page.
  • Figure captions must completely describe the figure and its contents to the reader so that they can understand the graphic without reading the surrounding text.


This guide provides a brief overview of what can be a very confusing process, especially if you’ve never written a scientific paper before. We encourage you to search for for your favorite synthetic biology topics on to get a better idea of how scientific papers are generally written and organized.  Also, please remember that we’re here to help.  Good luck and thanks for contributing!