China is on the verge of overtaking Britain in the world table of the most prolific nations for academic research, government figures reveal.
A report by the data analyst Evidence, published by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, shows that Britain produces the largest number of research papers after the US.
But the UK only just maintained its lead over China.
While Britain produced 8.63 per cent (79,784) of the world's papers in 2007 - up 0.06 per cent from 2006 - China published 110 fewer papers, equivalent to 8.62 per cent (79,674) of the world's output.
China, which has been heavily investing in its research base, has increased the number of research papers it produces over the past decade by a factor of four.
It increased its percentage of the world share by 0.87 per cent between 2006 and 2007. The trend suggests that China will overtake Britain this year.
But the UK firmly retained its place as second for citations - the number of times academics' work is cited by peers. Britain took 12 per cent of the world's citation share in 2007, up from 11.3 per cent in 2006. China was ranked eighth, taking 5.6 per cent. The US took first place with 45.5 per cent.
Ian Pearson, the Science Minister, told Times Higher Education that British scientists should "take the credit" for continuing excellent performance but said it has been underpinned by the Government's sustained investment over the past ten years.
"We have done very well to date with the rise of research in China to maintain the very strong system that we have got in the UK. What is important for the future is we are never going to compete head on with the numbers of papers produced with a country with a population of 1.3 billion. What we can compete on is the excellence of our research and how productive we are."
Britain ranked as the top country for value for money, producing more papers and citations than any other per unit of investment in research and development. The US and China remained relatively unproductive, ranking 17th and 16th respectively.
The top five paper producing countries are: the US, Britain, China, Germany and Japan. The top five countries for citations are: the US, Britain, Germany, Japan and France.
The Royal Society said the figures were an indication of the vitality of the British science base but also reflected that science was an international endeavour - with collaborative work with researchers in other countries being partly responsible for the increase in the impact of British papers.
The BioIndustry Association said the UK still lagged behind on translating research into products and called on the Government to deliver more initiatives.