Genomics by press release

The Spandrel Shop: “When did announcing science become the same as publishing science?”

When I think of getting scooped, it means that another lab has published the major findings of something I am working on before my group was able to get the paper out. I dont think I am alone in that definition, though I havent checked Urban Dictionary. Instead, Schuster was scooped because two other labs announced that they had sequenced these genomes. Uh, okay....According to the article, this is a devastating blow to Schusters group, even though they have the cacao paper submitted and they are already analyzing the Tasmanian devil sequence. My guess is that they are significantly ahead of both rivals at this stage and will get their papers out first, so why is this a big deal?

The post refers to a news piece (paywall) by Elizabeth Pennisi, which gives much more detail about the cases.

I think genomics has come to an inflection point – organisms whose genomes are obviously of some utility, but which have not yet been subject of a whole-genome sequencing project, are getting scarce. It’s not enough to sequence a genome, if you want to do glamor science. You have to have some, you know, science in there – pushing theoretical understanding in some way.

Some great talent has focused on genome centers during the last fifteen years, for good reason – that’s where the data are. But these centers are becoming more and more like public utilities. Soon, a genome won’t be news, it will be a data dump. The centers still do some great science, but it’s what they do with the genomes, not the genomes themselves.

The press hasn’t quite caught on to this transition yet. So a press release about a genome – which is the genomics equivalent of “vaporware” – still gets attention, and can suck some of the attention from what scientists think is actually interesting. This will be less and less of a problem as journalists get the memo – a genome is data produced with less and less human intervention.

Personally, I’d be happier with Schuster if the publicly available data from the Bushman genomes included genotype calls so we could do some more intelligent genetics with them. It’s like genomics hasn’t yet caught up to the fact that humans are diploid!