The Human Genome Project (HGP) has accelerated scientific advancement by bringing collaborative research into the mainstream.
The HGP project ran from 1990 to 2003, bringing together scientists from different disciplines, most notably biology and computing. It was organized around a new consortium, or “team science,” model, in which researchers from different fields and locations worked for years toward a common purpose: the sequencing of the human genome. Once the goal had been achieved, this “team science” model did not go away and continues to this day.
Since then, much work has focused on estimating the impact of the HGP on human health and the U.S. economy. Studies have not, however, examined the bigger impact of the “team science” approach. This research sought to change that.
Authors collected and analyzed biographical and funding information from more than 4,100 biology and computing faculty members from 155 departments across the U.S. This included data on 40,000-plus papers they had co-authored and published, and so created a network of almost 500,000 researchers.
The team demonstrated that biology and computing researchers who crossed disciplinary boundaries and collaborated on genomics grounds had more successful careers than their colleagues who did not. More than 90% of faculty members who worked in this way have had genomics work published, the data show.
Dr. Alexander Petersen, Professor of Management at the University of California Merced and one of the study authors, said: “Their cross-disciplinary publications had superior impact and the same patterns were found to be true at the international literature level.
As cross-disciplinary work continues, scientific advancements will follow suit, the authors believe.
“If we continue to do this and have well-timed and well-designed funding efforts, as the Human Genome Project had, then I think we can put scientific progress on steroids,” said Dr. Ioannis Pavlidis, Eckhard Pfeiffer Professor of Computational Physiology at the University of Houston.
More work is needed to help understand how best to encourage collaboration; however, one thing is certain, patients can only stand to benefit from this team approach.
Petersen, A., Majeti, D., Kwon, K., Ahmed, M. and Pavlidis, I. (2018). Cross-disciplinary evolution of the genomics revolution. Sci Adv 2018; 4(8): eaat4211.
University of Houston (2018). How gene hunting changed the culture of science. [online] Available at: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-08/uoh-hgh080918.php (accessed August 2018).