3. Biologists Saw an Explosion of Genome Papers, Leading to the End of Genome Paper Era
Throughout the last decade, publishing genome papers used to be the easiest ticket to ‘success’ in biology. For historical reasons, biologists cared about Nature and Science papers, because such publication implied making major scientific discoveries. In case of genome papers, the publication in Nature/Science was guaranteed based on coolness of the organisms and less on the quality of discoveries from the genome. For example, human genome got the biggest publicity simply for being “the human genome”.
However, it was not easy to write genome papers, because genome sequencing was an expensive engineering task and the government agencies gave money only to well-established players. The system was bad for science, because it “proved” that well-connected researchers with large amount of government money could do innovative science, proof being publication in Science/Nature. Also, the process dumbed down the high-visibility journals, because their editors gave more weight to the genomes than the actual discoveries. As a good example, when we submitted a paper on large-scale identification of flagellar genes in chlamy to Science in 2004, its editors rejected the paper without review. Three years later the genome paper did not have problem getting into Science. As we wrote in -
If you check the Chlamy genome paper, you will find that it spent about 1/3rd of space describing flagellar genes. Three years prior to its publication, we submitted a paper identifying similar set of flagellar genes but in a more direct way. Instead of doing a genome comparison, we did a transcriptome measurement and got them. What a novel concept!! However, Science editors were not impressed, because we did not submit a genome paper.
2013 saw an explosion of genome papers published in Nature, Science and Nature Genetics. We covered a number of them here.
Thanks to next-gen sequencing and innovative bioinformatics algorithms, the costs of genome sequencing, assembly and analysis have come down considerably. Therefore, it is not cool to write genome papers any more and, thanks to Randy Schekman, it is not cool to publish in Science/Nature/Cell either. The last sentence will be the topic of our next commentary.