Online genetic information is widely explored by the public as well as by researchers (see Nature 551, 427–431; 2017). To get a sense of which genes attract the most public attention, I used Google Trends to gather statistics from 2004 to the present (see go.nature.com/2dsjvdm).
I found that cancer-related genes are among the most commonly searched. The top-scoring gene you identify for researchers searching PubMed, TP53, also gathered the highest number of queries on Google — as might be expected from the role of mutant p53 proteins in tumour development. Search queries for BRCA1 peaked when actor Angelina Jolie announced her preventive double mastectomy in 2013 and the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes in 2015. And the promising development of cancer immunotherapy has coincided with a surge in queries in the past few years for PD-L1, a targeted immune-checkpoint gene.
The growing popularity of genetic testing for mutations that substantially increase the risk of disease has also brought fame to certain genes. Examples include mutations in APOE in Alzheimer’s disease, in SERPINA1 in α-1 antitrypsin deficiency, and in CFTR in cystic fibrosis. The scientific community can further empower the public through timely and accurate communication of genetic findings.
Nature 553, 405 (2018)