“Conflicting investigations” prompt expression of concern in BMC Genomics
BMC Genomics has issued an expression of concern for a 2011 paper by a prominent Argentine chemist, Ariel Fernandez, whose work covers several disciplines — “His research spans representation theory in algebra, physical chemistry, molecular biophysics, and more recently, molecular evolution and drug discovery” — and institutions. And therein lies the tale.
Fernandez appeared as the first author of the article, titled “Subfunctionalization reduces the fitness cost of gene duplication in humans by buffering dosage imbalances,” along with a pair of researchers from Taiwan. Fernandez’s affiliations were listed as being with the Instituto Argentino de Matemática “Alberto P. Calderón”, CONICET (National Research Council of Argentina), in Buenos Aires, the Department of Computer Science at the University of Chicago, and the Morgridge Institute for Research, in Madison, Wisc.
According to the abstract:
Recognizing the role of subfunctionalization as a dosage-imbalance buffer in gene duplication events enabled us to reconcile its mechanistic nonadaptive origin with its adaptive role as an enabler of the evolution of genetic redundancy. This constructive role was established in this paper by proving the following assertion: If subfunctionalization is indeed adaptive, its effect on paralog segregation should scale with the dosage sensitivity of the duplicated genes. Thus, subfunctionalization becomes adaptive in response to the selection forces arising from the fitness bottleneck imposed by gene duplication.
The paper has been cited twice, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
But as the expression of concern states:
After publication of this article (Fernandez et. al, BMC Genomics 2011, 12:604) it was brought to the Editors’ attention that the data generated by the first author, Ariel Fernandez, seemed anomalous. One of the author’s institutions found that the data were not reproducible from the described methods, but an investigation by the author’s other institution did not find the data or their interpretation suspicious. Given the conflicting conclusions of these investigations, the Editors advise the readers to interpret the data with due caution. We apologize to all affected parties.
So, one of Fernandez’s three institutions, we don’t know which, found cause for concern with his results. Another did not (why only two are referenced here is a mystery). What, we wonder, did Fernandez have to say about all this? If we reach him, or any officials at the various institutions with which he’s affiliated, we’ll update.
Hat tip: Jacek Kominek