Cell Biology

Publication Analysis 2007-2013
by Kathleen Gransalke, Labtimes 05/2015

View the Tables: Europe...and the World, Most Cited Authors...and Papers

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Microfilaments, mitochondria and nucleus in fibroblast cells. Image: Heiti Paves/CC BY-SA 3.0

Although Germany clearly leads the nations’ ranking, one French lab dominates European cell biology research. Programmed cell death and stem cells are hot topics.

“For, as to the first, since our Microscope informs us that the substance of Cork is altogether fill’d with Air, and that that Air is perfectly enclosed in little Boxes or Cells distinct from one another.” These famous words, uttered by Robert Hooke in 1664, weren’t perhaps the kick-off for cell biology research as such but it, at least, gave the discipline its name: the “little boxes” Hooke observed, reminded him of a cellula, a small room. Hence, he named them “cells”.

Modern cell biology’s moments of glory came a few hundred years later. Especially in the 1960s and 70s, cell biologists churned out momentous discoveries about the cell. Micro­tubules, for instance, were first described in 1963 in hydra (JCB, 18(2):367-88) and in plant cells (JCB, 19(1):239-50). In the same year, Margit and Sylvan Nass, back then at the Wenner-Gren Institute for Experimental Biology in Stockholm, published their findings on “intramitochondrial fibers with DNA characteristics” – the first description of mitochondrial DNA (JCB, 19(3):593-611).

Fifty years on, we know a cell inside out. Or do we? Cell biological research is still hotly debated. Just last year (LT 4-2014), LT reporter, Karin Hollricher, unsuspectingly went to a scientific conference on aneuploidy and got roped into a heated discussion about mitosis. So, does research on mitosis attract the most citations? That’s what we will explore in this publication analysis.

No changes at the top

First, as you’ll perhaps know from past issues, we turn our attention to Europe and the individual countries’ performance in cell biology. For this, we rely on so-called expert journals, as defined by Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database. In the last cell biology ranking from 2009 (LT 5-2009), covering papers, proceedings papers and reviews published between 1996 and 2007, Germany came out on top, followed by England and France, Italy and Switzerland. Six years later, nothing much has changed. As a matter of fact, the first 14 countries all kept their positions. Only one country took a major step up the ranking ladder: Portugal climbed six spots from 23rd to 17th place. Comparing the average citations per article, Switzerland performed best (42.7), followed by Scotland (36.6) and the Netherlands (36.4). It’s also worth mentioning that cell biologically-themed articles are, on average, cited twice as often as, for instance, articles on reproductive biomedicine or parasitology, our last two publication analyses.

In the “battle” between Europe and the US, as usual, European cell bio­logists wrote more articles published in cell biology specialist journals. These articles, however, were cited less often than those penned by their US peers, in total (1,265,428 vs 1,649,744) and on average (26.7 vs 36.5).

Outside of Europe, Japan performed very well, scoring the second most total citations; and Singapore, although not one of the top nations when it comes to total citations, got ahead of many others, even Germany and France, with their average citations per article (32.1).

So, what are then the most cited papers and reviews in cell biology, published between 2007 and 2013? The undisputed number one, with more than 8,000 citations to-date, is Douglas Hanahan’s and Robert Weinberg’s update article on the “Hallmarks of Cancer: The Next Generation”. In second place, Tony Kouzarides informs the scientific community about chromatin modifications and functions. Also among the top five articles are two publications dealing with microRNAs. Interestingly, none of the highly-cited articles is about those hot topics, which occupy the majority of our most-cited cell biologists in Europe.

Hard to separate

This, eventually, brings us to the said top 30 list. Once again, we had to come up with a few criteria to limit the vast amount of researchers taking advantage of cell biological techniques, to those, who can be considered true cell biologists. Not an easy task, as we had to find out. While there are still many basic cellular mechanisms waiting to be fully elucidated, the best way to attract many citations is to combine cell biology with other disciplines. Hence, many of our top 30 authors appeared in other rankings, too. Guido Kroemer, for instance, topped both the Immunology and Cancer Research rankings. Boris Zhivotovsky was among the top 30 in Toxicology Research and Maria Blasco scored 9th place in the Ageing Research publication analysis.

So, we decided to include only those scientists, who published a considerable number of their articles and reviews in cell biologically-themed specialist journals. In addition, ‘cell biology’ must have been listed among the top two Web of Science categories for a given scientist.

Interestingly, Europe’s top cell biologists are based in 13 different countries. England and France are home to five top cell biologists each. The French mecca for cell biology seems to be located in Villejuif, 7 km from the centre of Paris, in Guido Kroemer’s lab, to be more precise. Including Kroemer (1st), four of the five French cell biologists work or have worked there: Lorenzo Galluzzi (6th), Maria Chiara Maiuri (21st) and Oliver Kepp (24th).

And what are they working on? Programmed cell death in health and disease. Most of us are perhaps familiar with one way for a cell to die by choice – apoptosis – but there are many other death strategies, such as autophagic cell death, programmed necrosis, mitotic catastrophe and entosis (cellular cannibalism) as Kroemer informs on his website. Hence, one of his goals and that of his lab fellows is to “resolve the fundamental enigma: through which molecular and cellular mechanisms do cells die in normal tissue”. In cancer cells, however, these vital ways to bite the dust voluntarily are severely disturbed. Kroemer, thus, “launched a quest into the mechanisms that determine cell death resistance or connect different cell death modalities in cancer cells”.

Cell death, stem cells and enzymes

The four French aren’t, however, the only ones interested in a cell’s final moments; also David Rubinsztein (4th), Peter Vanden­abeele (8th), Gerry Melino (16th), Mauro Piacentini (18th), Boris Zhivotovsky (25th) and Terje Johansen (30th) all study cell death.

Stem cells, on the other hand, usually mark the beginning of a cell’s life cycle. Hans Clevers (2nd); Austin Smith (20th); Juan-Carlos Belmonte (27th) and Hendrick Stunnenberg (29th) have dedicated their professional lives to these undifferentiated cells. Directing the Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona for many years, Juan-Carlos Belmonte has, in the meantime, transferred his office fully to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. While still in Spain, his lab made major headlines with “mini-kidneys” grown from human pluripotent stem cells (Nature Cell Biol, 15:1507-15).

Between birth and death, a cell’s life is full of action. Johan Auwerx (9th), for instance, wants to decipher metabolic pathways; Carlos Lopez-Otin (10th) has zeroed in on novel human proteases, such as metalloproteinases of the MMP and ADAMTS family, as well as serine and cysteine proteases. Benoit Viollet (12th) focusses on different but not less important enzymes, the energy sensor AMP-activated protein kinases. Ivan Dikic (22nd), on the other hand, follows the ubiquitin pathways to learn how they regulate endocytosis, immune responses, DNA repair and proteasomal degradation.

Last but not least, a few top 30 cell biologists have a weakness for a cell’s genetic material. Jiri Bartek (17th) in the Prague-based Laboratory of Genome Integrity wants to understand the DNA damage response and DNA double strand breaks. Telomeres and their role in ageing and cancer are Maria Blasco’s (19th) scientific passion.

What’s the future of cell biology? Will it merge with other disciplines like oncology or immunology and disappear from the scientific world stage? Or will it perhaps just take a new direction? In a 2010 contribution to Molecular Biology of the Cell (21(22):3822), Kai Simons, former director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, gazes into the crystal ball, “I predict that engineers, who today lack training or knowledge of cell biology, will in the future take their inspiration from all the wonder machines that nature has produced. Molecular cell biologists are continuously unravelling the workings of the cellular nanomachineries. This will be a real source of future welfare and wealth globally, and not like the virtual dividends that result from manipulating the financial markets.”

View the Tables: Europe...and the World, Most Cited Authors...and Papers

View the Picture: Most Cited Authors

Last Changed: 15.09.2015