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Top Story

Why some human genes are more popular with researchers than others

Historical bias is a key reason biomedical researchers continue to study the same 10 percent of all human genes whose sequences are known, while ignoring many genes known to play roles in disease, according to a new National Science Foundation-funded study. The bias is bolstered by research funding mechanisms and social forces. Recent studies from other labs have reported that researchers actively study only about 2,000 of the nearly 20,000 human protein-coding genes. A team of researchers compiled 36 distinct resources describing various aspects of biomedical research and analyzed the large database for answers. The team found that well-meaning policy interventions to promote exploratory or innovative research actually result primarily in additional work on the most established research topics: genes first characterized in the 1980s and 1990s, before completion of the Human Genome Project. The researchers also discovered that postdoctoral fellows and Ph.D. students who focus on poorly characterized genes have a 50 percent reduced chance of becoming an independent researcher.

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