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To lean or not to lean? Second post in a brief series on italics.

Whew, that was a long gap between posts, but don’t think we’ve forgotten about italics while we’ve been busy editing manuscripts. Since it seems like every language blogger and editing service in the universe has written a post on italics, we’ve tried to make this more useful to you, the plant biologist, by including plant-specific examples.

Tip #2: Write gene names in italics, put protein names in regular, upright type. For example, the FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT) gene produces the FT mRNA, which encodes the FT protein. Like the gene name, the mRNA and cDNA names should be in italics.

This tip can help you make your papers more concise and clear, because to get this correct, you need to figure out whether you mean the gene or the protein—there’s no ambiguity. If you italicize correctly, you don’t need to write “the FT gene” or “the FT protein”, because you can distinguish between FT and FT. For example, if you write “The FLC gene promoter”, having FLC in italics indicates that you mean the gene, so the word “gene” is redundant here. Similarly, writing “FLC protein binds to the SOC1 gene promoter” has two redundant words, “protein” and “gene”. Don’t expunge all the occurrences of “protein” and “gene” in your paper—sometimes these words help the flow of the sentence—but keep in mind that you could remove a few here and there.

Now, where would a rule be without exceptions—you see that we used italics for the full name of FLOWERING LOCUS T. Some journals write the full gene name in Roman type and use italics only for the gene symbol, thus: FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT). In our experience, italics for the full gene name is the rule, and this exception is rare, but you know what we’re going to say here… repeat after me… check the instructions for authors at your target journal and apply them to a T—or perhaps to a FLOWERING LOCUS T.

Mutant names should also be in italics, generally in lowercase, but the exact nomenclature varies by species. One tip, some isolates of the Landsberg ecotype in Arabidopsis carry the erecta mutation, so abbreviate that ecotype as Ler, with the L in upright type and the er in italics. Make sure you’re using the correct gene and protein (wild type/mutant) nomenclature for the species you’re working on—for example, using Arabidopsis nomenclature by default in other plant species will not make your reviewers happy. Know the nomenclature rules of your subject organism, and apply them rigorously.

Thanks for checking out this post—tune in again for more tips on italics. Also, if you have an italics-related question, or any language question, ask us on Twitter @PlantEditors, or email We might feature your question in our next post!