The Most Popular Genes

Science Fields

Do genes have popular ones? Ones which are studied the most, or ones which keep researchers the busiest? The owner of this curiosity is a software engineer called Peter Kerpedjiev, who took the challenge as he thought it might be useful during an intelligent conversation.

First, he started with the medical archives and selected all articles in the USA’s National Library of Medicine giving reference to genes after 1980. While shaping up his list, TP53 becomes the first gene to catch his attention. This tumour suppressor gene is included in more than 8,500 articles and is a natural born celebrity, with its nickname “guardian of the genome”.

As the research continues, Kerpedjiev sees that the situation is far beyond being just a conversation starter. Data also reveals the trends in biomedical research over the years. And how dominant some genes are in research papers and articles. 

Name of the gene – citation count
TP53  – 8,479
TNF – 5,314
EGFR – 4,583
VEGFA – 4,059
APOE – 3,977
IL6 – 3,930
TGFB1 – 3,715
MTHFR – 3,256
ESR1 – 2,864
AKT1 – 2,791

This is the result from over 40 thousand papers in NLM. And here is what each gene is responsible for:

TP53: Tumour suppressor; mutated in about half of all cancer cases.

TNF: Tumour necrosis actor; drug target for cancers and inflammatory diseases.

EGFR: Epidermal growth factor receptor; this membrane-bound protein receptor is often mutated in drug-resistant cancers.

VEGFA: Vascular endothelial growth factor A; promotes growth of blood vessels.

APOE: Apolipoprotein E; plays important roles in cholesterol and lipoprotein metabolism.

IL6: Interleukin 6; has several major roles in immunity.

TGFB1: Transforming growth factor beta 1; controls cell proliferation and differentiation.

MTHFR: Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase; help the processing of amino acids.

ESR1: Oestrogen receptor 1; focus of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers.

AKT1: Encodes a signalling protein that phosphorylates other proteins to activate them.



  • 1. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07291-9
  • 2. http://emptypipes.org/2014/12/08/gene-popularity/