Monday, January 20, 2014

Not enough authors?

There's a big difference between publishing the complete sequence of a genome and having a highly accurate "finished" version that's fully annotated. You may be surprised to learn that there aren't very many high quality genomes of eukaryotes—especially vertebrates.

That's why I was interested in a paper published last April on the zebrafish genome. The authors have produced a high quality reference genome that will serve the scientific community (Howe et al. 2013).

Sequencing and assembly are highly automated and there are several programs that will find genes and other interesting bits of a draft genome. It's a lot more work to finish off the sequence by filling the gaps and it's even more work to annotate and check the sequences. Much of this work is labor intensive and expensive and that's why there are so many unfinished sequences in the literature.

I wasn't surprised to see that the original paper on the annotated zebrafish genome had 171 authors although that did seem a bit excessive. It meant that each author contributed an average of 0.6% to the final result. Some of them must have made a much smaller contribution. I wonder if every author read and approved the paper before publication?

Apparently there weren't enough authors. The January 9, 2014 edition of Nature contains a Corrigendum (correction) to the zebrafish paper. Five other authors were "inadvertantly ommitted" from the list bringing the total to 176 authors. In addition, the names of three other authors were spelled incorrectly in the original publication last April. I don't know why it took eight months before anyone noticed.

That just goes to show you that modern scientists have to deal with problems that us old fogies never encountered. I never had to spent more that a few seconds writing down the names of the authors on any of my papers. Today you need data management software to keep track of your authors.

Howe, K. and 171+5 others (2013 The zebrafish reference genome sequence and its relationship to the human genome. Nature 496:498–503. [doi: 10.1038/nature12111]