A fascinating recent news feature published by Nature describes how one US researcher “compiled a list of the most studied genes of all time — a sort of ‘top hits’ of the human genome”.
The overwhelming winner in this gene popularity contest was the gene TP53 and the protein it produces, p53. Readers will know TP53 as a tumour suppressor, mutated in roughly half of all human cancers and widely known as the ‘guardian of the genome’.
But the chart held some surprises – including how little research is done on some genes. Our of around 20,000 protein-coding genes in the human genome, just 100 accounted for one quarter of the papers covered in the study.
Genes also go in and out of popularity, such as the pre-1980s focus on haemoglobin genes, or the late 1980s to 1990s attention on CD4 that was partly led by efforts to tackle the emerging AIDS crisis.
The Top 5 ‘Most Studied’ Genes
The tumour-suppressor, mutated in roughly half of all human cancers
Tumour necrosis factor, a drug target for cancers and inflammatory disease
Epidermal growth factor receptor, a membrane-bound receptor protein often mutated in drug-resistant cancers
Vascular endothelial growth factor A promotes growth of blood vessels
Apolipoprotein E has important roles in cholesterol and lipoprotein metabolism