Paul Erdos was an extremely prolific and mobile mathematician who has left a legacy in academia in the form of the Erdos Number — a count of your “academic distance” from Erdos. Anyone who published a paper with Erdos has an Erdos number of one (Erdos, himself, had a number of zero), people who published with anyone with an Erdos number of one have an Erdos number of two, and so on. It’s a point of pride for a mathematician or other researcher to have a small Erdos number.
There is no widely recognized equivalent of the Erdos number for the life sciences. Given the diversity in the field, it would be quite difficult to find a single person around whom to calculate a number. If we were to select a biological Erdos, he or she would have to be both well respected and heavily published with many different collaborators. Dobzhansky comes to mind in the field of evolutionary biology (I may be biased, as my Dobzhansky number is two), but I don’t think he’d work for all of biology.
I bring this up, in part, because of the recent publication of an opossum genome. Unlike many other eukaryotic genome projects, this one was not carried out at the Human Genome Sequencing Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. The Baylor sequencing center was most recently involved in the macaque genome project, spearheaded by Richard Gibbs, director of the center. Gibbs also led the rat genome project, played a large role in the human genome project (e.g., this), and is a major player throughout the field of genomics. Given his highly productive career and the amount of collaborations involved in genomics, Gibbs seems like an ideal biology Erdos. And my Gibbs number is one, so, once again, I’m probably biased.
Now that I’ve shared my opinion, who do you think should be the Erdos of the life sciences? Should there even be an Erdos? Can there be an Erdos? Am I being stupid (nothing new), naive (nothing new), or just plain self centered (definitely nothing new)?