Publication Analysis 2007-2013
by Kathleen Gransalke, Labtimes 02/2017

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

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Good and bad bugs battle it out in our publication analysis. Half of our most-cited authors study bacterial pathogens, the other half focusses on helpful prokaryotes. Irish microbiology has done remarkably well.

Glass microbe by Luke Jerram

And what have they ever given us in return?! — Waste disposal? — Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that’s true. Yeah. — And oxygen.— Oh, yeah, oxygen. Remember what earth used to be like? — Yeah. All right. I’ll grant you oxygen and waste disposal are two things that the microbes have done. — And cheese. — Well, yeah. Obviously the cheese. I mean, the cheese goes without saying, doesn’t it? But apart from waste disposal, oxygen, and cheese. — Digestion. — Antibiotics. — Powerful research tools. — Oh, yes. Yeah... — All right, but apart from the waste disposal, the oxygen, cheese, digestion, antibiotics and powerful research tools, what have the microbes ever done for us?

This is, of course, a rhetoric question. Bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms simply rule the world we live in. Could you imagine a world without them? French microbiologist, Louis Pasteur, couldn’t. “Life would not long remain possible in the absence of microbes,” he said. So, there are more than enough scientific reasons to make microbiology the centre of one’s professional life. And it might be a clever career choice, too. “Microbio­logy sits neatly on the interface between fundamental science and applied science/biotechnology (...) The most important aspect of the degree is its relevance to society. Whether it’s regarding issues of the food or pharma industries, the environment, or medicine, microbiology is centrally important and is rarely far from the news. This relevance in diverse spheres means graduates have little difficulty in pursuing careers in research and industry,” the microbiology brochure from the University College Cork advertises.

A change in leadership

And indeed, microbiology research is buzzing in Europe (and elsewhere) but what have been the discipline’s hottest topics and whose microbial papers gathered the most citations? We’re soon to find out. First, a look at the nations’ performance. As with previous publication analyses, for this particular ranking we had to rely on specialist journals, such as FEMS Microbiology Reviews, only. The reason for this is that Web of Science, the database we use for this publication analysis, cannot retrieve microbiology papers from multidisciplinary journals. For the most-cited authors’ ranking, this limitation did not apply.

Compared to an earlier publication analysis of microbiology (LT 1-2011), Germany swapped places with England to become Europe’s new number one in microbiology research. Apart from this “change in leadership”, most nations have kept their positions. A special mention is deserved for Ireland’s excellent standing in 13th place (we will later see why) and Portugal (14th), which climbed four places since the 2011 ranking. When it comes to the citations-per-article ratio, it’s striking that almost all nations did equally well, which could suggest that international collaboration is widespread among the microbiology community. Scotland achieved the highest value, with, on average, 33.3 citations per paper; followed by Switzerland and Wales (21st according to total citations).

On the global scale, European microbiologists wrote almost twice as many papers as their US peers, who, however, did not gather twice as many citations. China has obviously intensified their microbiology efforts. Several years ago, they were far behind Japan’s, Canada’s, Australia’s and even Brazil’s research output. Now, they have overtaken them all.

Famous papers and a global threat

This brings us to the discipline’s top papers published between 2007 and 2013. Spot number one is taken by a rather famous paper: “Enterotypes of the human gut microbiome”. Greeted with lots of media fanfare at the time of publication, it proposed that humans host one of only three types of microbial clusters, characterised by a dominant bacterial species. Later, it turned out that the distinct clusters are not that clear cut. The second most-cited paper is about the matrix, the biofilm matrix. In this review, Hans-Curt Flemming and Jost Wingender from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, compile all knowledge about functions, properties and constituents of the self-produced matrix, which provides certain microorganisms with protection, adhesion and nutrition. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are the topic of the third and fourth most-cited papers. In “Emergence of a new antibiotic resistance mechanism”, scientists identify Gram-negative Enterobacteriaceae with resistance to carbapenem conferred by New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1 (NDM-1) as a potential major global health threat. Paper number 5 takes us back to the gut. Here, researchers discovered an anti-inflammatory bacterium in Crohn disease patients, which could be used as a probiotic treatment option.

Now, finally, we arrived at the most-cited microbiologists in Europe. First, a few words about our inclusion/exclusion criteria. Because they have their own publication analyses, we decided to exclude all scientists working with viruses or fungi. For the same reason, we also excluded those scientists, who put their focus on infectious diseases, vaccines or metabolism and nutrition. Thus, our microbiologists’ main interest has to be bacteria.

Surveying our top 30, we notice scientists from not less than ten different nations – an unusually high number. England hosts the most highly-cited microbiologists, followed by The Netherlands (especially the University of Wageningen). Three highly-cited microbiologists are each affiliated with institutes in France, Belgium, Germany and Ireland. Interestingly, all three Irish microbiologists work at the University College Cork. Even more interestingly or perhaps astonishingly, there’s only one woman among Europe’s microbiology elite, Listeria expert Pascal Cossart in 15th place.

Pathogenic vs beneficial bugs

But who’s number one? Just as with the 2011 publication analysis, it’s “l’Indiana Jones des microbes”, Didier Raoult. In only seven years, he (somehow) managed to write (be co-author of) more than 600 (!) papers. Everyone can now calculate how many papers these are per week. Raoult’s main focus are pathogenic bacteria, such as Rickettsia and Bartonella; he’s also credited with discovering close to one hundred new microbes, including some strange giant viruses. As a side note, two bacteria, Raoultella planticola and Rickettsia raoultii, are named after him.

Also, a few other microbiologists spend their working time with pathogenic bacteria. Taking a genetics/genomics approach are, for instance, Julian Parkhill (2nd), Gordon Dougan (10th), Nicholas Thomson (23rd) and Stephen Bentley (25th) – all researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton. Patrice Nordmann (3rd) together with Laurent Poirel (8th) tackle antibiotic resistant bacteria. Joining them are David Livermore (9th), Neil Woodford (20th), Yehuda Carmeli (24th) and Christian Giske (26th). Pathogens Salmonella typhimurium and Listeria monocytogenes serve Jörg Vogel (13th) and Pascal Cossart (15th) as models to reveal gene regulation by non-coding RNA molecules and the molecular basis of intracellular parasitism, respectively.

Other highly-cited microbiologists prefer the good over the bad bugs – many of them are found in our gut. Focussing not on single prokaryotes but on the entirety of microbes, the gut microbiome, and how they influence our health and disease are, for instance, Willem de Vos (4th), Joel Doré (6th), Paul Ross (11th), Fredrick Bäckhed (19th) and Michiel Kleerebezem (27th).

Then, there are two more categories: applied microbiology and microbial ecology. As applied microbiologists, Willy Verstraete (5th) and frequent co-author Nico Boon (14th) test bacteria’s potential, amongst others, in energy production (micro­bial fuel cells), wastewater treatment and bioremediation of soils and sediments. Verstraete also has some other, more delicious projects. In one study, he investigated whether chocolate can be used as a carrier for oral delivery of probiotic bacteria and found it to be an “excellent solution”. On the ecological front, Frank Oliver Glöckner (12th), Mike Jetten (16th) and Marcel Kuypers (30th) analyse the diversity of marine bacteria, elucidate the role of new (anaerobic) micro-organisms in global element cycles and survey microbial processes that control oceanic nutrient cycling, respectively.

There’s hardly a scientific discipline, in which so many things are unexplored. The latest estimates say that about 1012 microbial species inhabit our planet. And only a fraction of these species has, to-date, been properly cultivated and described. Time and technology is ripe to shed some more light on this microbial dark matter.

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

View the Picture: Most Cited Authors

Last Changed: 26.04.2017