By Ben Hirschler
LONDON (Reuters) - Genomics and particle physics - offering different perspectives on the fundamental nature of life and the cosmos - are the two hottest areas of scientific research.
Eight of the 21 most closely followed scientists in 2012 studied genes and their functions, while the single most-cited paper last year covered the hunt for the long-sought Higgs boson particle, according to a Thomson Reuters survey on Wednesday.
It was the third year in a row in which genomics researchers topped the rankings, in terms of authoring the most highly cited scientific papers, underscoring the central importance of genetics in biological science and medicine.
"Genomics is a perennially hot topic as we learn more about how (DNA) sequences play out in the manifestation of disease," said Christopher King, editor of Thomson Reuters ScienceWatch, which tracks trends in research.
The relevance of the work in genomics was evident this week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) congress in Chicago, where key advances in cancer medicine on display hinged on understanding the genetic basis of tumors.
The world's "hottest" researcher, as measured by the number of citations during 2012 for papers published between 2010 and 2012, was Richard Wilson at the Washington University School of Medicine, the survey showed.
Wilson's laboratory was the first to sequence the genome of a cancer patient and discover genetic signatures related the development of disease.
FORMATION OF THE UNIVERSE
Other hot genomics researchers on the list included Eric Lander of the Broad Institute of MIT at Harvard and Kari Stefansson, the founder of Icelandic biotech company Decode Genetics, which was acquired last December by Amgen.
Papers related to the search for the Higgs boson accounted for nearly one fifth of the 51 papers published in the 2012 hottest research list. The boson and its linked energy field are viewed by physicists as vital in the formation of the universe and in giving mass to matter.
No single scientists working on the Higgs particle, however, were identified in the rankings because of the highly collaborative nature of the particle physics research, with some papers involving upwards of 3,000 authors.
Scientists working on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, outside Geneva received an honorable mention as a group.
The survey also highlighted the growing importance of Chinese research in a number of fields, with institutions in the country producing four of the 21 hottest researchers, including Jun Wang from the Beijing Genomics Institute.
"When you look at the quantity of papers published by various nations, China has sky-rocketed in the last few years," said King. "That hasn't necessarily been commensurate with impact in the literature, as measured by citations, but this seems to be starting to change."
(Editing by David Holmes)