Birds of a feather: Authors who play games with fowl data earn multiple retractions

jmicrobiotechA group of animal health researchers from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences have lost their 2009 paper in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology because they’d published the data in at least four other articles.

The paper, “Two Novel Duck Antibacterial Peptides, Avian β-Defensins 9 and 10, with Antimicrobial Activity,” reported that:

Two novel avian beta-defensins (AvBDs) isolated from duck liver were characterized and their homologies with other AvBDs were analyzed. They were shown to be duck AvBD9 and AvBD10. The mRNA expression of the two genes was analyzed in 17 different tissues from 1-28-day old ducks. AvBD9 was differentially expressed in the tissues, with especially high levels of expression in liver, kidney, crop, and trachea, whereas AvBD10 was only expressed in the liver and kidney of ducks at all the ages investigated. We produced and purified GST-tagged recombinant AvBD9 and AvBD10 by expressing the two genes in Escherichia coli. Both recombinant proteins exhibited antimicrobial activity against several bacterial strains. The results revealed that both recombinant proteins retained their antimicrobial activities against Staphylococcus aureus under a range of different temperatures (-70 degrees C -100 degrees C) and pH values (pH 3-12).

Trouble was, that novelty had already worn off.

Here’s the retraction notice:

The article by Ma et al. that published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology (2009, 19: 1447-1455) was used the same data in two journal articles (Acta Veterinaria et Zootechnica Sinica, 2009, 40(9): 1320-1326, Scientia Agricultura Sinica, 2009, 42(4): 1406-1412). Therefore, the article is retracted from JMB as a misconduct of the authors. JMB as the publisher regrets for any inconvenience may have caused by the retraction to readers.

The paper has been cited 22 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

The authors had a similar retraction in the Journal of Microbiology earlier this year of their 2009 paper “Identification and characterization of a novel antibacterial peptide, avian beta-defensin 2 from ducks”:

The article by Ma et al. that appears in the Journal of Microbiology (2009, 47: 610-618) is a redundant publication of the paper published in Scientia Agricultura Sinica (2009, 42: 3685-3692). Therefore, we, the JM committee, decided to retract the article from JM. We regret any inconvenience that the retraction may have caused to readers.

That study has also been cited 22 times. And their 2012 paper in PLoS ONE, “Isolation, Characterization and Mechanism of Anti-viral Activity of Duck Avian Beta-defensin 16,” carries the following correction (which, given the nature of things, might easily have been upgraded to a retraction):

The following two publications by our group should have been cited in this PLOS ONE article, the authors apologize for this oversight:

Isolation, Characterization and Mechanism of Anti-viral Activity of Duck Avian Beta-defensin 16
Zhang K, Zhang M, Xin S, Han Z, Shao Y, Liu S and Ma D. Scientia Agricultura Sinica, 2012, 45(18): 3873-3882 (in Chinese)

Isolation, characterization, and determination on bioactivity of duck avian beta-defensin 5 Zhang K, Lin L, Han Z, Shao Y, Liu S and Ma D. Microbiology China, 2011, 38(11): 1688-1697.(in Chinese)

The sequences for Apl_AvBD16 and Apl_AvBD5 used for the study reported in PLOS ONE are identical with respect to AvBDs from the two reports in Chinese above, however, all the experiments for AvBD 16 and AvBD 5 were repeated to generate new datasets to be reported in the PLOS ONE article. Furthermore, the data for Apl_AvBD1, 3, and 6 reported in the PLOS ONE article were not included in the studies of the two Chinese publications above.

The claim in the PLOS ONE article indicating that this reports the characterization of five novel defensins is inaccurate given that beta-defensin 16 and beta-defensin 5 had been already reported in the two previous publications above.

Missing from that list is the retracted paper in Journal of Microbiology.

We also noticed that some of the authors have published at least one paper on avian beta-defensin in geese. Duck, duck….goose?

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