Paper on fungi co-authored by UC Berkeley professors reaches 10,000 citations

You might not think a paper on fungi would be very popular.

But last week, John Taylor and Tom Bruns, professors of plant and microbial biology in the campus College of Natural Resources, celebrated reaching 10,000 citations of a 1990 publication on the subject they helped co-author.

The publication by Taylor, Bruns, Steven Lee – a former postdoctoral student – and Thomas White — then a researcher at Hoffmann La-Roche — provided a simple technique for detecting fungal genes and is used broadly to “barcode” fungi and plants.

Taylor said that the paper was the first to describe how to quickly and simply determine the genome sequence and identify organisms by sequencing the ribosomal DNA region. These tasks are now standard in fungal evolution and ecology laboratories, he said.

Still, Taylor said he is shocked by the number of citations the publication has received within the last two decades. According to Bruns, for many scientific publications, reaching over a thousand citations is considered a milestone.

“Part of the shock is that our publication was just one of the many in an edited book and not the short article in a highly visible journal, Nature, Science, for example, that you expect to be highly cited,” Taylor said.

Bruns said that while the 1990 article laid out a novel method that later became widely used, technical papers about barcoding fungi typically only receive up to 30 citations. However, he added that publications by other campus professors have also received a high number of citations.

Papers that outlined the Nobel Prize-winning work of campus physics professors Saul Perlmutter and George Smoot were cited over 8,800 and 2,200 times respectively, according to Google Scholar.

“Berkeley is not really an average place. We do things that are hopefully ahead of the curve,” said Bruns. “The average faculty member on campus has a good citation record. However, 10,000 is absolutely rare.”

When he was the associate chair of the plant and microbial biology department, Bruns said he often looked at citation records to evaluate the impact of other faculty members’ work since published scientific research can go unnoticed.

“Scientific citations are important; [they serve] as a good metric for when you do something that has an impact,” Bruns said. “Many articles get published and go unnoticed without more than a few citations.”