A recent recipient of an early career award now under investigation by granting agency EMBO told us today that last week’s retraction in Nature Genetics stemmed solely from an “embarrassing error,” and she hopes to republish the data in a new paper.
Last week was rough for Sonia Melo: Nature Genetics retracted one of her papers, and the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) announced it was investigating the papers that formed the basis of her application. The retraction was of “A TARBP2 mutation in human cancer impairs microRNA processing and DICER1 function,” which has been cited 235 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
Melo’s Installation Grant from EMBO was announced in December, and consists of 50,000 Euros annually for three to five years. She is currently based at the University of Porto, in Portugal.
Melo contacted us today to defend her record:
As I previously said, I stand by every bit of data published in the papers I co-author. There was no effort to commit fraud. I regret the lack of diligence I have shown with the Nature Genetics manuscript, my first manuscript as a PhD student, and the confusion it has caused to the readership and my colleagues.
She offered more details into what went wrong with the newly retracted paper:
Unfortunately the Nature Genetics manuscript got retracted because duplicated images were identified some even in the same panels of the same figure. This embarrassing error was not identified by anyone who has scrutinized the manuscript before publication, especially by myself, as the first author, who had a high responsibility in carefully looking at the final manuscript. The first version of the submitted manuscript shows that the figures were accurate without the duplication that appeared in the final version. The published correction (2010) to the manuscript happened because one of these mistakes was identified soon after the original publication. At that time point this was taken as an isolated error, which happened during final figure assembly of the images. Unfortunately, I failed to see the other duplicated images in the manuscript.
She also hopes to republish the paper:
The raw data registered in the Lab notebooks shows to be correct, the original submission files do not have duplicated images and therefore I stand by the data reported in the manuscript and it is my aim to re-publish this original work in a near future.
Melo also addressed the questions raised about her research on PubPeer, where some commenters have suggested the papers contain duplicated figures that claim to represent different experimental conditions:
As for further comments/concerns, which arose on pubpeer, the authors and respective institutions have not ignored them. All concerns were addressed, raw data registered on notebooks was analysed and reports developed for each case. The data was shown to be correct so no further action was taken.
EMBO was informed of all these facts and is evaluating if these affect my evaluation for the EMBO Installation Grant I was recently awarded.
Melo added that she’s won’t address issues raised anonymously, but is happy to communicate with anyone who chooses to “formally contact” her:
Until now, and because the Nature Genetics retraction process was ongoing, I chose to remain silent. I was not and will not be available to participate in discussions that occur under the auspices of anonymous contributions and unclear moderation. I am however available to answer further questions that aim at clarifying open issues and that contribute to increase the transparency due to the scientific process. Therefore, if any entity or organization wants to formally contact me, I will be happy to provide any details required.
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