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Citation analysis points to genomics as the hottest topic in scientific research

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Every year Thomson Reuters uses its citation analysis tools to study the research landscape and the researchers within it. Christopher King shares what the latest study says about the field of genomics

Genomics - the large-scale study of the structure and function of genes - was the primary field of study for eight of the 21 hottest researchers of 2012, according to “The Hottest Scientific Researchers and Research”. This is a Thomson Reuters ranking of the most influential scientific researchers and research papers on ScienceWatch, an open web resource for science metrics and analysis.

This annual report applies citation analysis to the full body of scientific literature published each year. The latest edition tracks researchers whose recently-published papers recorded notably higher levels of citations during 2012, along with the most highly-cited individual papers of the year.

Genomics research has maintained a solid footing in recent years as scientists seek to discover and produce critical information about human genes that could provide for a detailed analysis of molecular mechanisms predetermining health and disease. The study of genomics has maintained its importance at a global scientific level for decades, and it was no surprise when genomics took the lead in ‘hottest’ research. It continues to be a mainstay as researchers learn more about how genetic sequences play out in the manifestation of disease.

The pack of influential researchers was led by Richard K. Wilson of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, USA (WUSTL). Wilson’s landmark paper, “A Map of Human Genome Variation from Population-Scale Sequencing,” appeared in Nature and was one of 15 highly-cited works by him. This Nature article boosted the citing ranks of several other researchers on the hot list, including three of Wilson’s colleagues from WUSTL—Elaine Mardis, Li Ding and Robert Fulton—leading Thomson Reuters to declare WUSTL a hotbed for genomics research. The paper also figured in the previous ScienceWatch roundup for 2011 and has remained among biology’s most-cited papers.

Other genomics researchers featured on the hottest researchers list were Jun Wang of the Beijing Genomics Institute, China; Eric Lander of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, USA; Kari Stefansson of deCODE Genetics, Reykjavík, Iceland; and P. Andrew Futreal of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA.

Futreal was among the featured researchers actively involved in cancer research, with 11 of his hot papers focused on oncology. In previous work, Futreal identified the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which indicate individual susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer. Futreal’s findings have influenced thousands of women’s decisions regarding mastectomy and hysterectomy operations as a way to prevent cancer. His research recently received international attention when actress Angelina Jolie’s gene identification—made possible by Futreal’s research—influenced her decision to have a double mastectomy. Futreal’s 2012 paper on intratumor heterogeneity in the New England Journal of Medicine logged nearly 150 citations by year’s end.

Lander made his ninth appearance in Thomson Reuters’ annual overview, with reports that included discussion of general aspects of genomics along with specific studies of cancers of the ovaries, blood and brain. After an absence from last year’s list, Stefansson of deCODE returned to the table by virtue of 13 reports on genomic aspects of Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.

Other researchers in the field of biomedicine who appeared on the list were Gregory Y.H. Lip of the University of Birmingham, UK and Lars Wallentin of Uppsala University, Sweden both in the field of cardiology; Goncalo Abecasis of the University of Michigan, biostatistics; Jeffrey A. Sosman of Vanderbilt University and Keith Flaherty of Massachusetts General Hospital, both in the field of oncology; Salim Yusuf of McMaster University, cardiology/epidemiology; and Rob Knight of Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Colorado, bioinformatics.

Representatives from the physical sciences also had a strong showing, led by Yongfong Li of the Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, who contributed to 14 hot papers on polymer solar cells employing fullerene derivatives and other materials. Cells that incorporate polymers to harness solar energy are expected to play a pivotal role in alternatives to conventional electricity, making this field an extremely active and critical area of materials research.

Other representatives from the physical sciences were Frederik Krebs of the Technical University of Denmark, also in the field of polymer solar cells; Rodney Ruoff of the University of Texas, Austin, USA, who fielded a dozen hot papers on graphene; Hui-Ming Cheng of Shenyang National Laboratory, China, who returns to the list with 11 papers on advanced materials for energy storage; and Jiaguo Yu with the Wuhan University of Technology, China.

Outside the realm of materials, Zidong Wang of Brunel University, UK recorded 12 hot papers presenting complex mathematical and statistical operations for the analysis of large data sets.

Of the 21 featured researchers, four were associated with research institutions in China, including the Beijing Genomics Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Chemistry, Wuhan University and Shenyang National Laboratory.

Of the 51 individual research papers receiving the highest number of citations in 2012, 13 were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, followed by Nature and Physics Letters B.

An honourable mention was bestowed on the scientists of the ATLAS Collaboration, 22 of whose recent reports registered as hot papers in 2012. Nods also went to the CMS Collaboration and the ALICE Collaboration at CERN. Thomson Reuters noted that the CERN experiments dominated much of the industry’s news and research as scientists searched for, and produced evidence of, the long-sought “God particle,” known as Higgs boson, that provides the basis for framework that explains the fundamental forces at work in the universe.

The hunt for Higgs prompted collaboration at epic proportions, ultimately changing the face of scientific research, but because of this massive collaboration, with several papers listing thousands of author names, we were unable to feature all the individual contributors, hence the honourable mention.

Thomson Reuters annually conducts research and analysis using InCites, its web-based scientific and scholarly research evaluation tool for analysing institutional productivity and benchmarking output against peers worldwide. The full paper can be accessed on ScienceWatch.com.

Christopher King is editor of Thomson Reuters ScienceWatch