Only a tenth of the human genome is studied | The Economist

April 28, 2021

There are roughly 20,000 genes in the human genome. Understanding genes and the proteins they encode can help to unravel the causes of diseases, and inspire new drugs to treat them. But most research focuses on only about ten percent of genes. Thomas Stoeger, Luis Amaral and their colleagues at Northwestern University in Illinois used machine learning to investigate why that might be.

First the team assembled a database of 430 biochemical features of both the genes themselves (such as the levels at which they are expressed in different cells) and the proteins for which they code (for example, their solubility). When they fed these data to their algorithm, they were able to explain about 40% of the difference in the attention paid to each gene (measured by the number of papers published) using just 15 features. Essentially, there were more papers on abundantly expressed genes that encode stable proteins. That suggests researchers—perhaps not unreasonably—focus on genes that are easier to study. Oddly, though, the pattern of publication has not changed much since 2000, despite the completion of the human genome project in 2003 and huge advances in DNA-sequencing technology. “}}