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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

The domino effect: More retractions of papers that cited retracted PLoS ONE GMO cassava study

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Last month, we reported on a PLoS ONE paper about genetically modified cassava — or, more correctly, allegedly GMO cassava — that was being retracted because data “could not be found.” We have an update on that story, namely that a paper relying on materials from that lab will be retracted, and that authors of a review that included a figure from the graduate student who claimed to have done the work will retract part of their paper.

As a Retraction Watch commenter on our earlier post noted, referring to Claude Fauquet, the PI of the Danforth Center lab where graduate student Mohammad Abhary worked:

The study (Biotechnologically-Modified Cassava: Protein Absorption Relative to Casein, Li. et al., 2012) used cassava obtained from Mr. Fauquet to show that zeolin-enhanced cassava allowed mice to grow, and non-enhanced cassava resulting in weight loss and lack of growth in the control mice group. Do the findings and methodology of this study need to be checked too?!

The link to the study now returns a “Service Unavailable” page. The commenter, as is often the case, was onto something. We asked the senior author of that study, Kendal Hirschi of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, for an update. He told us early last week:

The retraction  is in the works- the journal requires a signed document from all four authors and some of the co-authors are now in China.

We informed the journal immediately about our plans to retract the article and have worked on this since the minute (mid-september) we found out about the samples being tainted.

As far as we can tell, Hirschi’s lab was a victim here, having been sent materials by Fauquet — also by all accounts unaware of the problem with the cassava — and now they’re trying to clean up the scientific record. A retraction is never an easy thing to swallow, particularly when the error wasn’t even your own fault, but the authors should be commended for swift and appropriate action.

We’ve learned that the other retraction is of part of a paper in the Annual Review of Plant Biology, 2011’s “The BioCassava Plus Program: Biofortification of Cassava for Sub-Saharan Africa.” That paper includes authors from a number of institutions, including first author Richard Sayre of the Danforth Center, and Fauquet. The authors are retracting Figure 3 of the review, which is based on previously unpublished data from Abhary that can’t be confirmed, and a paragraph on page 259 that describes the PLoS ONE paper.

The review has been cited 10 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. We tried reaching Sayre for comment, and will update with anything we learn.

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