It took 272 researchers to sequence the first human genome, the Wall Street Journal writes, but 1,014 investigators to report on the Muller F element in the fruit fly.
"There was a joke that anyone who had ever seen a fruit fly got to be an author," Zen Faulkes from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley tells the Journal.
This explosion in the number of authors makes it difficult, it adds, to assign either credit for extraordinary work or blame for misconduct.
But researchers are coming up with new ways to apportion credit, even turning to computer programs, the Journal says. Physicists, it notes, often list authors alphabetically, giving George Aad a number of lead authorships.
"The challenges are quite substantial," Marcia McNutt, editor in chief of Science, says. "The average number of authors even on a typical paper has doubled."
Most journals now require investigators to read and approve any manuscript with their name on it and explain what they contributed to the paper. In keeping with International Committee of Medical Journal Editors guidelines, authors have to be accountable for all aspects of the work, the Journal says, adding that a number of journals further ask for one researcher to act as a guarantor who takes responsibility for the work.