Royal jelly figure flushed: Author removes figure from 2002 paper

j biochemRoyal jelly — “the goo that sustains honeybees destined for royalty” and is touted dubiously for everything “from youthful skin to virility,” as Nature put it — is apparently a hot research topic. So when a Retraction Watch tipster sent us a corrigendum that seemed to have done something we hadn’t seen before — retract a single figure, without saying why — we figured we’d check it out.

Here’s the text of the corrigendum:

The author wishes to remove Figure 1 from this paper, and to change Figures 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 into Figures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, respectively. The author also wishes to replace the first paragraph of the Results section (p. 913) with the following:

Purification and Deglycosylation of the 57-kDa Protein—The 57-kDa protein purified by column chromatography showed a single band on native PAGE and SDS–PAGE as we have described previously (28). The band of the native 57-kDa protein shifted to a position equivalent to 48 kDa after enzyme treatment. The 57-kDa protein was stained by the periodic acid Schiff reagent, but the deglycosylated 57-kDa protein was not (Fig. 1). These results indicate that the 57-kDa protein is a glycoprotein and that the oligosaccharide chains were removed by N-glycosidase F.

We’re not entirely clear on why the figure was removed; author Masaki Kamakura, of Toyama Prefectural University, declined comment and the editor of the journal hasn’t responded to a request for same.

But a look at reference 28, mentioned in the corrigendum, offers a clue. Figure 1 of that paper, “Fifty-seven-kDa Protein in Royal Jelly Enhances Proliferation of Primary Cultured Rat Hepatocytes and Increases Albumin Production in the Absence of Serum,” from Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, is identical to the now-removed Journal of Biochemistry figure.

The Journal of Biochemistry paper has been cited 16 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. One of the citing papers was a 2011 paper in Nature by Kamakura that got a lot of, well, you might say, buzz. As a news report in Nature put it:

Google ‘royal jelly’ – the goo that sustains honeybees destined for royalty – and the first hits tout its benefits: from youthful skin to virility to an anxiety treatment. These dubious perks are aimed at humans, but other organisms may want to take notice.

A new paper published online today in Nature identifies a key component of royal jelly and finds that it endows female flies with some of the physical traits of queen bees, by acting on the same cellular pathways.

It’s not clear if the removal of the figure will affect the Nature paper, but given the correction notice doesn’t say anything about an impact on results or conclusions, it seems unlikely.

7 thoughts on “Royal jelly figure flushed: Author removes figure from 2002 paper”

    1. A form of plagiarism, yes, autoplagiarism. Guess they used the same prep of protein from the earlier paper for the new set of experiments and just placed the same analytical gel of this prep in the second paper too. Definitely lazy, definitely to be frowned upon and they should have really just referenced their previous article as they eventually decided to do. Or rerun the gel for the second paper, but that is somewhat pointless if it is the same protein from the same prep, stored properly. But does it call into question the veracity of both papers results? Not really in my opinion. It is definitely a copyright violation and that’s the reason why they had no alternative but to pull the figure I suppose.

      Funnily enough I’m dealing with a similar case of this very same practice right now as editor for a journal submission, except there’s been a definite & deliberate attempt to pass off old data as new in my case. Context and motive do matter, and it looks like the authors mentioned in this post got the benefit of the doubt.

      1. Republishing the same figures is just another way to manipulate the peer review by inflating the data. It is bad science, and we all know it.

  1. Nature has published a Brief Communication Arising that questions the findings of Nature paper:
    Nature. 2016 Sep 21;537(7621):E10-2. doi: 10.1038/nature19349. PMID 27652566

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