Olivier Voinnet — a plant researcher who was recently suspended for two years from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) after an investigation by
ETH Zurich and CNRS found evidence of misconduct — has issued his second retraction and two more corrections.
PNAS posted the retraction earlier this week for a 2006 article after an inspection of the raw data revealed “errors” in study images. Authors confirmed the issues in some figures and revealed “additional mounting mistakes” in others.
Voinnet has promised to issue retractions and corrections for every study that requires them. These latest notices bring our tally up to nine corrections, two retractions and one Expression of Concern.
The retracted paper, “RNA silencing of host transcripts by cauliflower mosaic virus requires coordinated action of the four Arabidopsis Dicer-like proteins,” examined how the cauliflower mosaic virus shuts down antiviral defenses in plants. Last fall, users raised potential issues with the paper on PubPeer. It has been cited 146 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
Here’s more from the retraction notice:
The authors wish to note, “Recently, potential errors affecting some of our figures were brought to our attention. Through the inspection of the corresponding original raw data, we have confirmed there were errors in Figs. 1 C and 2 B, Left, E, Top Left and Bottom, and F, Right. While we have also confirmed that Fig. 2 E, Top Right, and F, Left, are not erroneous, our own inspection of all the remaining figures revealed additional mounting mistakes.
“Although these errors could have been corrected with the
original raw data and were recognized as inadvertent we, the authors, consider them too numerous and have thus decided to retract the study on this basis. We will seek to submit the corrected version of this article for peer review elsewhere.
“Olivier Voinnet, the corresponding author, takes full responsibility for the errors contained in the original publication. We deeply apologize for the inconvenience caused.”
When asked for a comment, a spokesperson for PNAS gave us a brief statement.
Thank you for your message. The editors and authors agreed that the article should be retracted.
The journal also published a correction for a 1999 study co-authored by Voinnet, “Suppression of gene silencing: A general strategy used by diverse DNA and RNA viruses of plants,” which looked at how different mechanisms of plant viruses interact with plant genetics. It has been cited 676 times.
This study had also been flagged on PubPeer last year. Shortly after the comments were posted, a commenter saying he was last author David Baulcombe (a highly decorated scientist who also edited the retracted PNAS paper) announced on the site that he had contacted the journal and was looking into the problem.
In the notice, the authors reveal issues with study images, but assert “we are confident that the conclusions from the figure about the geminiviral suppressor AC2 are correct.”
Here’s the full notice:
The authors note, “The rRNA loading panels in Figs. 1D and 2D were inadvertently duplicated by Olivier Voinnet. Part of the image in Fig. 2D was also used in Figs. 3C and 5C, as explained in the respective legends. The experiments for Figs. 2, 3, and 5 were all run on the same agarose gel and blotted onto the same filter, to allow their direct comparison through the common reference dilution series seen in Figs. 2D, 3C, and 5C. The samples in Fig. 1D were run and blotted independently and it is therefore likely that the rRNA loading image in Fig. 1D, but not that in Fig. 2D, is erroneous. We no longer have the original files used for this paper and we are not able to provide the correct rRNA loading control to Fig. 1D. We recognize, therefore, that the equal loading of the samples in the figure is now not supported by the presented data. However, we are confident that the conclusions from the figure about the geminiviral suppressor AC2 are correct, as that interpretation was later confirmed in multiple independent publications.”
The PNAS spokesperson declined to add any information about the correction.
We have no further comments on the correction.
The authors found that one of the study images “was a mock-up made during the drafting of the article” that was left in the final article, which examined how potato virus X silences genes in Nicotiana benthamiana. They write that the correction “does not affect any of the conclusions of the article.”
Here’s the full notice for “Initiation and maintenance of virus-induced gene silencing”:
An incorrect image was shown in Figure 5B of the original article, corresponding to RNA in vGFP-infected leaves sampled at 13 days postinoculation (DPI). The original published figure for this panel was a mock-up made during the drafting of the article and showed identical copies of the same image in lanes 2 to 5 and copies of a second image in lanes 6 and 7. The authors regret that the figure was not replaced with the correct images of the bona fide replicates prior to submission and publication of the article and that the error was not noticed previously.
The corrected figure and revised figure legend are presented below. This correction does not affect any of the conclusions of the article. The corrected images show, as stated in the original article, that PVX-GF levels were similar in the infected NT and GFP transgenic plants at 13 DPI, and PVX-GF is targeted by gene silencing at the 20-DPI time point and beyond in the GFP plants only. Results from independent experiments involving distinct PVX-GF inocula are depicted in the revised figure for both the 13- and 20-DPI time points. The authors confirm that no other irregularities or inappropriate manipulation of images or data took place for any other figures or data shown in the original article. O.V. performed the experiment, drafted the figure, and cowrote the text. D.C.B. cowrote the text and, as corresponding author, takes responsibility for the content of the article. First author M.T.R. was informed of the correction but was not involved in the experiment for this figure.
It has been cited 551 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
The journal’s editor-in-chief, Sabeeha Merchant, didn’t have much to add:
I thought the correction notice was pretty clear
In response to follow-up questions about the PubPeer comments, Merchant said:
We do not respond to anonymous posts about our papers
This particular one was initiated by the author
When asked to comment on the Plant Cell correction, Baulcombe told us:
I contacted the editor to ask how we should address this problem. Olivier Voinnet was able to present images of the original data as in the correction notice and the outcome is as you have seen.
When asked about the PNAS correction, Baulcombe added:
The same comment applies to the PNAS paper – I contacted the journal to ask for their suggestion as to how we should deal with the problem although noting in this instance that Olivier Voinnet was not able to provide the original images. I wrote the correction note for the Plant Cell paper having heard from OV that the published figure was produced as a draft and used by mistake in the submitted article. The text was approved by first author and reviewed by the journal editors. The correction note for the PNAS paper was written by me, reviewed by the journal editors and approved by all authors.
We’ve asked for a statement from Voinnet and Guillaume Moissiard, the first author of the retracted paper and a professor at ETH Zurich. We’ll update the post if they reply.
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