Here’s a very clever paper that combines bibliolmetrics with second-gen sequencing to define the brain’s ignorome–the set of genes which are highly and selectively expressed in the CNS yet poorly studied in the neuroscience literature (24523945). Out of 650 genes with CNS-specific expression, about 38 have one or fewer neuroscience papers. In contrast to this ‘ignorome’, the top 5% of genes account for almost 70% of publications. Even more interesting, biological properties don’t predict which genes are hot vs. ignored (it’s not number of interacting partners, number of motifs, etc.). Instead, popularity is best predicted by date of discovery.
There are a couple of interesting things to think about here. First, it seems like neuroscientists are guilty of lampposting–looking at what we know how to look at rather truly exploring. Second, and related, we need to be more open to discovery (something I wish our NIH reviewers would recognize)–we shouldn’t be racing to mechanism when we haven’t even fully characterized all the players yet.